Council steps back from proposals to massively reshape downtown streets to avoid a looming mess.
A new roadway leading through the heart of Prior Lake could bring so much new traffic that it disconnects one end of downtown from the other within a few short years, consultants warn.
The most drastic solutions, however, cost piles of money and create other problems. So the City Council has chosen the most modest among them.
A newly opened stretch of County Road 21 leading from Hwy. 169 and Shakopee's busy Southbridge area into downtown Prior Lake is expected to bring thousands more cars. The city has been straining for years to recreate downtown as a pleasant, even upscale, small-town atmosphere.
The average number of vehicles passing through per day is projected to nearly triple, from 10,300 to 27,000, by 2030. But the moment that traffic threatens movement through downtown on Main Avenue, crossing County Road 21, is expected to arrive much sooner: by 2017.
Three were considered, including a tunnel routing drivers under Main Avenue. By this fall, however, they'd been clipped to two:
• Rerouting 21 to a bypass south of the heart of downtown, at a cost of $23 million -- $8 million just to acquire the needed land -- and with the potential to increase the frequency of crashes by 30 percent.
• Rejiggering traffic flow along 21 and creating better conditions for pedestrians to cross it, at a cost of $8.7 million.
Council members were unanimous in choosing the latter option that will "eventually," officials say, yank the four-way stop signs out of the intersection of Main and 21.
Instead, to keep traffic on 21 moving, access to downtown would become "right-in, right-out," avoiding left turns.
Pedestrian access from the north and south sides of County Road 21 would be improved with a median wide enough for them to reach and pause on before crossing the next set of lanes. There also would be landscaping to beautify what is now a less than attractive area.
Instead of a sharp tax blow -- nearing $100 a year for a $300,000 home at its high point and lasting till nearly 2050 -- the worst impact of the smaller tweaks on that same home is a smidgen over $10 a year. That disappears altogether by 2025.
The impact this choice will have on downtown, consultants cautioned, is mixed. As a pro, traffic continues to be fed through downtown, keeping businesses there more visible. As a con, it continues to divide the two sections of downtown, creating a barrier for those on foot.