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Wright County News

Posted on: January 29, 2020

County Board Approves Moving Forward With Turn Lane Project at Bertram Chain of Lakes Park

There are often times when a project needs to get done, whether it’s a small home remodel or a larger government project, and the question comes up, “Where will the money to pay for it come from?”

That was a topic of discussion at the Jan. 28 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, as Parks & Recreation Director Marc Mattice came before the board looking for a funding source that had yet to be identified for an upgrade to a township road in Monticello Township.

For the last several months, Wright County Parks & Recreation, the City of Monticello and Monticello Township have been in talks regarding the significant increase in traffic on Briarwood Avenue at the entrance to Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park. Due to the city developing athletic fields that are bringing teams and fans to events and the growing popularity of the public beach in the park, the traffic levels on Briarwood Avenue have exploded, especially during the summer months, and the necessity for turn lanes to keep traffic moving became a front-burner topic of discussion.

Because the increase in traffic was almost exclusively driven by people flocking to the athletic fields and the beach, not normal township traffic, township officials didn’t feel it was a project the township should pay for given the reason for the dramatic increase in traffic flow. It is a problem that is only expected to get more pronounced, as the city develops more athletic fields for use and the county completes a campground inside the park.

Mattice said there has been a lot of movement on the project, but one key missing piece has been locking down where the county’s 50 percent share of the approximately $325,000-350,000 turn lane project would come from.

“There have been a lot of transportation committee of the whole meetings, meetings with the township and meetings with the city related to Briarwood Avenue Northeast,” Mattice said. “Our last direction was that the county would develop a plan for turn lanes for Briarwood Avenue and the city would do all the construction management – staking, maps, things like that. We had a M.O.E. (Memorandum of Execution) done last week with the city and county related to that agreement. As it continues on, I don’t know if we’ve ever identified a funding source.”

Mattice said the need for the project has moved forward quickly and that traditional forms of funding for such projects – coming from the budget process or set-aside funds – didn’t have the chance to take place, leaving the most viable alternative being to utilize unused budget funds turned back by departments at the end of 2019.

“We’ve talked about a variety of different funding options,” Mattice said. “One was the C.I.P. (Capital Improvement Projects fund). I don’t think that ever went through, so I don’t think we’re going in that direction. We think we probably could cover that $175,000 county share with turnback funds.”

County Commissioner Darek Vetsch, who represents the district where the project will take place, said his strong preference is to use any turnback money to help reduce the county’s bond debt. But, he added that this was a project that was foisted on the county and the city because of the popularity of the park and the need to have adequate traffic controls.

“I’m not big on spending the turnback dollars, but, unfortunately, this is a project that kind of came out of nowhere,” Vetsch said. “Traffic patterns grew immensely in a very short period of time. The turn lanes were needed sooner than later, so we weren’t able to dedicate a funding source a few years ahead of time. I don’t know that we have a whole lot of other options.”

County Commissioner Mike Potter, who has been a longstanding proponent of improved transportation and projects that help alleviate road congestion, said he was leery of the process of not having a funding source locked down before proceeding as far as this project has without a definitive source.

While he said he understood the need for the turn lanes and would vote to approve using turnback dollars, he cautioned that this approach should be used very sparingly.

“This is one that I feel very uncomfortable doing this way,” Potter said. “We’ve made sure everybody else has got to follow procedure and make sure you have your funding source identified before it came in. Granted, it snuck up on us, but this is not exactly the way you should be doing things, because turnback dollars are not guaranteed. As we’ve made these budgets tighter and tighter, pretty soon we’ve said ‘yes’ to turnback dollars here and turnback dollars there. Pretty soon, we’ve made promises we can’t keep. I’m uncomfortable with this until we actually identify the funding source. All you’re going to be doing is robbing some other project to do this. If the turnback dollars aren’t there, what’s your next option once you’ve done these bids?”

The board approved using turnback funds, which are available for this year. The hope is to get the project bid out as soon as possible to take advantage of local companies having openings in their 2020 construction schedule rather than waiting longer – at which time prices will invariably go up as more firms have their own schedules filled and the cost of adding a project rises due to less competition among potential bidders. With other projects that will be taking place in the area during the summer and fall, the hope is to get a better price from firms that will be already be working on projects in the vicinity.

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