Construction is expected to start this fall on a $37.5 million interchange that would eliminate a dangerous bottleneck in Ramsey by removing traffic lights on Hwy. 10 at Armstrong Boulevard, officials say.

The work would be the most expensive part of what could be a multiyear plan that would also replace the other four signaled intersections on the crash-prone highway in Anoka and Ramsey, said County Commissioner Scott Schulte, chairman of the County Board’s transportation committee. He said a study by the Minnesota Department of Transportation proposes the intersection upgrades on the nearly 4-mile stretch, which would cost about $125 million.

MnDOT says the Hwy. 10 corridor — from Ramsey’s border with Elk River to Ferry Street in Anoka — has had a crash rate in the past three years of about one death per million vehicle miles traveled, 50 percent more than on similar metro-area highways. The corridor had 10 fatalities in the past decade, including four pedestrian deaths in 2012.

The Armstrong interchange is expected to take about a year to build. It will include on and off ramps and a bridge to carry Armstrong over the highway and adjacent railroad tracks.

The $37.5 million project received a commitment this spring from the Legislature that local officials expect will provide about $8 million in state bonding money, Schulte said. He said that the state committed another $10 million a year ago and that $10.2 million will come from the Counties Transportation Improvement Board.

Anoka County and Ramsey will each chip in $3 million, leaving nearly $3 million still needed, said Doug Fischer, county highway engineer.

Scott McBride, MnDOT’s metro district engineer, said his agency may provide inspectors for the interchange, which could cover about $1.5 million of the gap. “I am confident we will let [bids for] that project this fall,” he said.

Much prep work is done

Fischer said most land for the Armstrong project has been acquired and 95 percent of design plans are done. He said construction bids will be solicited once all funds are committed.

“It’s very exciting to see this thing actually starting to happen,” Fischer said. “I am holding my breath, hoping we don’t have another fatality on this corridor until we can get things done.”

Ramsey Mayor Sarah Strommen said: “The Highway 10 issue is extremely important to Ramsey in terms of keeping traffic flowing smoothly and having safety measures in place so our emergency responders can get across the tracks and on and off 10 in a safe manner.”

Strommen said the interchange also will boost economic development by making it easier for customers to reach the business area along Armstrong and Sunwood Drive. Ramsey developer Jim Deal said he owns 40 acres near the proposed interchange that will attract more interest after the project is done.

The Armstrong bridge will reduce rear-end and other crashes and provide a safe crossing for bikers and pedestrians. Four pedestrians were killed in three accidents while crossing the Hwy. 10 corridor in 2012.

MnDOT held a briefing Thursday in Ramsey for area cities, Anoka County officials and local legislators.

“Many people have lost their lives out here, including pedestrians,” McBride told local leaders. He said the study identified specific safety or congestion problems and proposed affordable solutions. The study found that pedestrian exposure is the worst on the eastern end of the corridor, where walkers cut across the highway between Main Street and Thurston Avenue, McBride said.

MnDOT’s north metro engineer, Paul Jung, said his agency’s 16-month study, to be finished in August, transforms a full-scale, $300 million freeway proposal into a series of small, sequential projects to be done in affordable bites. He said the small projects, totaling roughly $125 million, would remove signals on Hwy. 10 and include more frontage roads, flyover ramps and signaled on-ramps to keep the highway flowing smoothly while minimizing waiting times on cross streets.

A first for MnDOT

The modified freeway plan, which includes a prioritized project list, marks the first time MnDOT has used this affordable, small-project approach, Jung said.

“Gone are the days of MnDOT doing mega projects,” he said. “It’s time for new a paradigm to find targeted, lower-cost solutions that are more able to actually get done. We hope the Highway 10 study will be a model for other corridors in the Twin Cities that face similar challenges.”

MnDot’s $550,000 study included computer modeling that showed the reduction in crashes that would result from each highway improvement. Fischer said the modeling showed the modified freeway, costing up to $160 million, would produce more than 90 percent of the congestion reduction and safety benefits expected from a full $300 million freeway.

“We are in a much better position to get funding than before we had the priority list, and only a $300 million plan,” Jung said.