The controversial reconstruction of a historic, tree-lined Lake Minnetonka road that has been decades in the making is moving forward this fall.
The state, and then Hennepin County, have long sought to revamp the picturesque but aging section of Bushaway Road, part of County Road 101, as it winds along the lake from Wayzata to Woodland to Minnetonka.
It’s been a lengthy process in part because of resistance from residents who fear that widening 2.2 miles from Minnetonka Boulevard to Hwy. 12 will destroy the more than a century-old scenic road.
“It’s going to be hard to make it look and fit in with the historic nature of the neighborhood,” said Ron Anderson, a longtime Wayzata resident on Bushaway Road.
Now the two sides are getting closer to a compromise as it nears a final vote.
Until Nov. 14, Hennepin County is accepting public comments on the environmental assessment work sheet, or EAW, of the project. Since 2006, the county has worked on plans, and finally got unanimous approval from all three cities last year. The county will return to the cities by December for final approval.
Three years of construction work could start next spring.
“I know we aren’t going to have 100 percent consent, because this is when the pen hits the paper.… There will be some dissent,” said Nick Peterson, the county’s project manager. But he said the county’s tried to address residents’ concerns, such as reducing the number of trees that will be removed from more than 600 to fewer than 300. “We tried to find a happy medium that would especially protect the trees.”
The project includes redoing lanes in each direction with shoulders, adding a roundabout at Breezy Point Road, putting in turn lanes and an 8-foot-wide bike and pedestrian trail, and replacing what was supposed to be a temporary bridge over railroad tracks.
Hennepin County and the state Department of Transportation are expected to pay about 85 percent of the $30 million cost. The rest will come from the Metropolitan Council, Wayzata, Minnetonka and Woodland. The cost was originally estimated at $19 million in 2009, but Peterson said railroad and sewer work added on more than $11 million.
The county says improvements will make the busy lakeside road safer for cars and pedestrians, replacing crumbling 50-year-old pavement. According to the county’s 2009 data, more than 11,000 cars travel that stretch each day.
Anderson said he knows that work needs to be done and looks forward to having a bike trail. But he still worries about how changes will affect the environment or fit in aesthetically, such as the concrete retaining walls.
“All the aesthetic issues put together add up to a pretty big impact,” said Anderson, a retired University of Minnesota professor who runs the Bushaway Preservation Fund, which will submit EAW comments. “The neighborhood is really going to keep taking a hard line at negotiations of design features.”
Doing any work to Bushaway, considered the eastern gateway to Lake Minnetonka, has long been controversial because of the trees, lake and affluent homes around it and the road remaining largely unchanged for more than a century. The community boasts that it’s the first registered road in Minnesota. Residents protested efforts first by MnDOT in the 1980s and then Hennepin County when the state highway became a county road.
“The county may have thought it was because of a few stubborn residents, but it really was the charm and beauty of the road that draws people to protect it,” said Kristen Eide-Tollefson of Old Frontenac, Minn., who grew up in a house on Bushaway and is active on task force committees.
Now, she said, residents are mostly on board as they continue to negotiate a few more of the landscape details that she hopes will help preserve the character of the historic road.
“We recognize improvements are needed,” she said. “What we don’t accept is that it needs to be turned into a suburban corridor. … It’s also very much a neighborhood road.”