The Lakeville school board is asking the city and Dakota County to prioritize widening a stretch of Dodd Boulevard that it says is dangerous.
In a resolution passed last week, the district “respectfully requests” that Lakeville’s mayor and City Council and the Dakota County Board of Commissioners place a high priority on the upgrade to Dodd Boulevard from 185th to 194th Avenue “to address the ever-increasing volume of traffic and long-standing serious traffic safety issues.”
Widening that section to four lanes is already included in Lakeville and Dakota County’s 2014-18 Capital Improvement Plans (CIPs), with completion set for 2018. But the school board says that’s not soon enough.
City and county representatives, however, say funding and time are obstacles to completing the project sooner, and that other road improvements are just as important.
The safety of that portion of Dodd, near Lakeville North High School, was recently called into question after Lakeville North student Alyssa Ettl died in a crash there in December. Another student died nearby in a 2004 accident.
“I’m trying to represent the interests of the community here,” said Bob Erickson, school board member. “Clearly, it’s a safety issue.”
That segment is two lanes, 55 mph, with no shoulders and a steep gradient, Erickson said.
He called it the “most significant county road safety issue in the city, certainly on any rural section of a county road” and cited more than 50 accidents occurring there in the past decade.
Dodd Boulevard widens to four lanes both north and south of the section.
Steve Mielke, city administrator, said that while that section’s rural design isn’t ideal, the city “has a number of roads where we have accidents.”
“Yes, it’s an important road, yes it needs to be upgraded and yes, we’re going to do that,” he said.
In response to the resolution, Lakeville Mayor Matt Little said that he and the City Council will be meeting soon to create a task force on school road safety. That group will also include the county, he said, and “will conduct a thorough examination of our roads systems in relation to the schools.”
Project delayed before
Brian Sorenson, assistant county engineer for Dakota County, confirmed that the project was first included in the 2006 CIP but removed in later plans. It’s not unusual for that to happen, he said.
The initial urgency to widen the road occurred because there were several housing developments pending nearby. When those developments didn’t materialize, the project was put on hold, Sorenson said.
Sorenson agreed that the road eventually needs updating, and sympathized with those who knew Alyssa Ettl.
“I think we can agree that there are elements here that, if they were improved, would reduce the number of crashes,” said Sorenson. “We agree that roads like this can sometimes be unforgiving when mistakes are made.”
A question of priorities
Neither Mielke nor Sorenson said they had an issue with the school board creating the resolution. “It’s one way of stating positions, but I would have preferred to have a dialogue with them first, and the county,” Mielke said.
The board passed another resolution related to road construction in July 2013. That document asked the city and county to “prioritize the reconstruction” of a busy section of County Road 50 extending from County Road 60 to Dodd Road, near Kenwood Trail Middle School.
The resolution asked that the reconstruction be completed in 2016. That project is now in the CIP with a 2017 completion date, Mielke said.
Mielke questioned which project the board was now prioritizing. “If their priorities have changed, I’d like to know,” he said.
Little also noted that the two projects logistically conflict and said the task force “will need to take a hard look at which project should come first.”
Erickson said that which project should be completed first “wasn’t the issue” and that the board wasn’t attempting to change the priority placed on County Road 50.
Board member Roz Peterson said the point of the resolution was to start a discussion.
Little said that Lakeville has “a long history of collaborative efforts” and wants to get the new task force started in the coming weeks.
“We just want to make sure we’re proactive, and sometimes you need a squeaky wheel when it comes to safety,” Peterson said.