Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Sep-Oct 2016 issue

Right-Sizing Transportation Projects for Success

By Eric Johnson

You may have a drawing of a transportation improvement project hanging in your office—paper yellowing, curling corners—that you hope to somedayDrawing of a curvy road build. If only you could convince everyone that it’s the appropriate solution to one of your community’s biggest issues. How can you make your project a city priority that gets funded and built? Taking some cues from the City of Anoka may help you out.

Determine the real problems
Think about your need. Now, erase the solution you have in your mind and focus on the problem. What is at the root of the issue? How well do you understand it? What do others—including potential project partners and your elected officials—think about the issue?

If you generalize the problem and demand a solution, your project probably won’t get funded. If you want to make a difference, consider diving into the problem. Study it from many different perspectives. Discuss it with affected agencies and the public. After you have a handle on the perceived problem, further study it and determine what the true underlying issue is.

If this step is completed incorrectly, the remaining steps will be unsuccessful. The more detailed you can understand the exact issues, the better you will be positioned to communicate the issues and develop an approach to tackle it.

In Anoka, state Highway 10 was a general problem. A high number of crashes and fatalities were occurring there, as well as significant rush-hour backups every day. Over the past 10 years, there were nearly 800 crashes, including four fatalities, on this short stretch of roadway.

All agencies acknowledge there is a problem, but the former $110 million plan sitting on the shelf was not fundable (nor supported by all agencies).

“Highway 10 through our community has plagued local and regional travelers for decades, resulting in countless hours of congestion and too many lives lost,” says Anoka City Manager Greg Lee. “Different freeway visions over the past two decades proved too large of an investment for any one agency.”

Three years ago, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Anoka County led a study that dug into the heart of the Highway 10 issues. After the detailed analysis, the project partners then fully understood the crash patterns and the effects they have on the system, the backups that are caused by the signals, and the lack of local streets to connect neighborhoods.

Develop a cost effective solution
Once everyone involved understands the problem, it’s time to develop a cost-effective solution. In Anoka, the approach was to identify improvements that could be implemented in smaller yet effective pieces.

In 2015, the city took the study recommendations and furthered the evaluation and outreach to develop a solution that could work for all the partners. The plan was developed at approximately half the cost of the original vision, providing nearly all of the former freeway vision benefits.

“Our solution will be achieved in eight projects, which are right-sized and fundable, rather than one mega-project littered with property impacts,” Lee says. “We are making efforts to complete this vision over the next 10 years.”

Get funding
Now that you have defined the problems and identified solutions that are supported by all involved, this opens opportunities for competitive funding sources and cost-sharing.

Identify the key funding programs that align with the project. Meet with program administrators and influential people. You may need to get creative to assemble a complete funding package, so be sure to take advantage of all opportunities. Once you have a key initial investment, other funds should fall into place.

Leaders in Anoka took this approach, and now they have a solution that will be achieved. In 2014, the first project was awarded funding for an interim pedestrian enhancement project that will drastically lower the likelihood of pedestrian crashes. The project will be completed this year.

The second project was awarded funding in 2015 for a key frontage road segment that will be constructed next year. All eight components should score well in competitive applications, as they were developed to be stand-alone projects that build toward the greater goal.

This process results in transportation solutions being built with efforts expended by all benefiting agencies. This is not a compromise, but rather the outcome of working together to actually make a change. If you continue to hold out for the “Big Fix,” your picture on the wall will continue to fade.

Eric Johnson is transportation project manager with Bolton & Menk, Inc. (www.bolton-menk.com). Bolton & Menk is a member of the League’s Business Leadership Council (www.lmc.org/sponsors).

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