Incoming councilmember Nancy Nelson greets citizens attending last week’s meeting, where she raised concerns she had over the upcoming road project.
Incoming councilmember Nancy Nelson greets citizens attending last week’s meeting, where she raised concerns she had over the upcoming road project.

Except for the possibility of some minor "tweaks," plans for next years' rebuild of Hwy. 44/Main Street have been officially finalized.

By a unanimous ballot, the Spring Grove City Council voted to send the plans to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) on Dec. 4.

The vote followed a public review/discussion of the major aspects of the plan before a group of over 150 citizens at the Spring Grove Fest Building.

There were no surprises for those who have followed previous updates on the development of the project, which includes not only the rebuilding of the street through the heart of Spring Grove, but upgrades to infrastructure along the route.

City engineer Tim Hruska of WHKS brought a copy of the 135-page plan, which covers Main Street from 3rd Ave. West to 2nd Ave. East.

"The plan (is similar to) peeling an onion," he said. "You start at the bottom and work your way out. We started out by taking the whole thing apart and then building it from the bottom back up; starting with the sanitary sewer, water main, storm sewer, roadway plans, curb and gutter, sidewalks, to traffic control, erosion control, signing, staging, and lastly, the landscape features.

"Basically, everything has stayed the same. We have not had any design changes since the last meeting that we had with the city council. MnDOT did do a preliminary review on those plans, and we did do cosmetic changes."

The project is tied to the larger MnDOT mill/overlay project on Hwy. 44 that extends all the way from Red's (IGA) to Hwy. 52 (near Prosper), Hruska stated.

"The two plans are going to be combined into one big document that will have one specification," he concluded.

Mayor Saundra Solum went over the main points of the plan, explaining cuts that the council has made to the "amenities" portion of the document, which are now down to between 3 to 4 percent of the total.

Current estimates for the city's share of the costs boil down to bond payments of approximately $210,000 per year on a 20-year issuance.

The floor was opened up for attendees to speak on the plans before the vote. Nearly 30 persons did, asking questions and stating opinions.

"I wanted to explain where we were coming from," councilmember-elect Nancy Nelson said. "Reasonable people can look at a situation and come to more than one idea for a solution."

Nelson refuted claims by some that those opposed to the project have taken a "closed-minded" stance.

"There's a difference between fact and supposition and speculation," she noted.

"MnDOT will do the overlay, the sidewalks, change the street width and that's pretty much a non-negotiable thing. I don't think there's anybody in town who hasn't wanted those sidewalks fixed for a long, long time."

Nelson spoke briefly about water and sewer lines, interest rates and more.

"There's a lot of unpredictability here," she added, "a lot of expectations that may or may not come true.

"I have not liked the pressure to come here and vote on this," Nelson said. In addition, the new council will have to accept the project mostly as-is, without the option of having input on the main points of the plan, she stated.

"I do not think it's fair to ask us to take responsibility for a project that we won't have and haven't had any input in at all.

"I hope that in January this many people show up at each meeting. There are more people here tonight than in the four years I was on council... total."

Sarah Schroeder brought a petition in favor of the project, which could still be cancelled if the incoming city council does not approve it in January.

Schroeder said that there were 189 signatures on the document. "If we would have had more time we probably would have had 300 signatures," she said.

Mayor-elect Bruce Poole said that he counted 31 planting beds on the amenities plans. That could require the city to hire two to three extra people every spring to maintain them, he stated.

"That's going to be expensive, and I'm not sure it's worth it," Poole said.

In addition, assessments to city-owned and school properties along the route will fall to taxpayers to pick up, he added.

Anthony Wagner fielded questions for MnDOT. He serves as program development engineer for District 6 (Rochester).

When resident Owen Thorson asked if MnDOT's share of the cost can be counted on as "certain," he said that the formula is complex, but the state will definitely reach the ($1.5 million) limit they are committed to under the agreement.

"I'm here in support of the project," Scott Solberg said. "There are a lot of things I'd rather spend $30 a month on than roads and sidewalks and sewer systems, but I understand that it's my duty."

Solberg stated that MnDOT's commitment of funds shouldn't be rejected.

"We don't know what the future brings," he said, adding that the city needs to take advantage of the offer while it's available.

"It looks like everybody here loves Spring Grove," Janet Sanness said. "It's like a diamond in the rough. But if you've looked around, this diamond has rough edges. It is really in need of some help, and I think with that wonderful gift of $1.5 million, we really need to think long and hard, because some of this work has got to be done."

Sanness said that she's seen how the addition of bump-outs worked in Anoka.

"With those crosswalk bump-outs, that person is standing out where cars can see them," she noted.

"They're not standing back at the curb waiting for a chance to scoot across and try to get to the other side."

Chris Strinmoen said, "I hate to spend money. In wrestling with this, I think back to the debates in Minneapolis with the stadium issues. That's an attraction - something that's a tough decision for the council and the commissioners up there to vote on.

"Here, we're debating safety, and infrastructure and roads, what government really needs to spend our tax money on. It saddens me that we're debating safety, roads and infrastructure. If we can spend a little extra to beautify at the same time, amen."

Kim Kapplinger pointed out, "I'm thinking that if you guys have been thinking about this project for a long time, and you think this is a good plan; it must be a good plan, whether I agree with all the nuts and bolts in it or not.

"We can talk about it back and forth forever and never do it. Or we can say, we've got $1.5 million coming towards the project (and) we've already spent $385,000 on this project. Maybe, we should just do it."

Wagner said that the impression that MnDOT would take 15 years to return to Spring Grove if the project is cancelled was not accurate.

What would occur is that the work would be thrown into an uncertain future, and Main Street would "probably" not be rebuilt for four to six years.

Making any sort of definite statement on exactly what would happen is impossible, he explained during a break. That's because state funding and plans are not set in stone for that eventuality.

After the open forum, Solum made a motion to remove a drinking fountain from the plans while leaving the underlying pipes in place for a possible future addition.

Only she and councilmember Lorilyn Dehning voted for the cut, so the motion failed 3-2.

Another motion to remove irrigation from the plans failed along the same exact lines, with Solum and Dehning casting the only "aye" votes.

"I don't like the idea of nickel and diming the project at this stage," Councilman Robert Vogel said.

With the approval of the "100 percent plan," MnDOT will move forward with final certifications.

In January, one final vote by the new council will need to be taken to officially accept all aspects of the agreement and launch the project.