March 2023Vol. 31, No. 1

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Top projects: railroad grade separation, dam removal, and more

Grade separation project in Moorhead

Moorhead grade separation

Congratulations to the 2022 awards recipients! Please see the association websites for details and a full list of awards.

City Engineers Association of Minnesota

Project of the Year: Southeast Main/20th/21st Street Railroad Grade Separation, Moorhead

This project entailed constructing three grade-separated highway underpasses of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and RailAmerica/G&W railroads at the skewed intersection of SE Main Avenue and 20th/21st Street in Moorhead. The project lets high volumes of vehicle traffic as well as bicyclists and pedestrians move through the heavily traveled junction safely and efficiently.

The project has already made a significant impact on school bus transportation and public transit. Over 130 school buses carrying more than 2,000 students crossed the tracks daily prior to construction. Fixed-route bus service ran on 20th and 21st Streets, but headway reliability was poor because of the uncertain arrival of trains. The project greatly improved the efficiency of the metropolitan transportation system.

Intermittent Red River Valley flooding also factors into the importance of this project. SE Main Avenue is a designated evacuation route for local and Fargo residents during major flooding events. The project improvements affect flood operations in the surrounding metro area.

Minnesota County Engineers Association

Interchange project on Highway 36

Highway 36 interchange in Washington County

Project of the Year: Highway 36/Manning Avenue Interchange, Washington County

In 2017, Washington County and its partners embarked on a study to best address the need for safety and capacity improvements at Highway 36 and Manning Avenue near Stillwater. A new interchange was identified as the solution.

The previous at-grade signalized intersection configuration had safety and operational deficiencies and was approaching its full capacity. The opening of the St. Croix River Crossing puts Highway 36 under additional pressure to efficiently move large volumes of commuter, freight, and recreational traffic to regional and interregional destinations. A new interchange was also critical to several capital improvement projects constructed along the highway.

Pedestrian and bicyclist safety and connectivity at the intersection was an important project consideration. The new interchange offers pedestrians and bicyclists a much safer grade-separated crossing that connects to the existing trail network.

Special Project: CSAH 15/Morningside Avenue Project, Glencoe, McLeod County

MCEA gives a Special Project Award to projects that are unique and rare in character and scope. The award has been given once in the past six years.

Morningside Avenue project in Glencoe

Glencoe regional road connection

The Glencoe project began as a vision by local community leaders to establish a local and regional connection in their city. Planned for decades, this connection had been identified in various comprehensive planning documents and transportation studies.

The project included construction of 0.5 mile of new urban roadway, 700 feet of reconstructed roadway, a new railroad crossing, and a roundabout, all serving a grocery store, seven residential homes on the corridor, and the Glencoe/Silver Lake School. The roadway was designed adjacent to existing high voltage transmission lines, a public park, Housing and Redevelopment Authority properties, wetlands, and a former city landfill.

The final product is the only roadway in the community that provides access across Buffalo Creek to US Highway 212 while also providing direct access to the community and other regional transportation corridors.

American Public Works Association – Minnesota Chapter

Project of the Year: Southeast Main/20th/21st Street Railroad Grade Separation, Moorhead

See project description above.

Environmental Stewardship Award: Pine River’s Rock Riffle—Dam Removal and Rock Rapids Installation

Rock riffle project in Pine River

Pine River rock riffle

Built in 1910, the Pine River dam was classed as high hazard and was also a significant fish barrier. Trunk Highway 84, which had been constructed on the dam’s embankment, included a concrete bridge to span the dam spillways.

The City of Pine River worked cooperatively since 2013 with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, MnDOT, and others to find solutions that not only improve safety and transportation but also improve fish passage and the overall health of the river system. As funding, constructability, and ecological benefits became clearer, the city chose to remove the dam and replace it with rock riffle.

The project enhances fish passage, biological connectivity, habitat, safety, aesthetics, fishing, and recreational access to the river. Although public works staff will maintain the rock riffle, efforts will be much lower than operating the dam gates.

North Central Institute of Transportation Engineers

Transportation Achievement Award: Hennepin Downtown Reconstruction, Minneapolis

Sidwalk with tactile paving on Hennepin Avenue

Hennepin Avenue redesign in Minneapolis

Hennepin Avenue is a cultural district with multiple theaters, arts institutions, and entertainment venues. Stakeholders’ desires for the corridor focused on the street as both a public space and a transportation route. In addition, the City of Minneapolis sought to implement the protected bikeway update to its Bicycle Master Plan and design a street consistent with its Complete Streets Policy.

The new design of Hennepin Avenue creates a more continuous sidewalk and moves pedestrians further from vehicle traffic. It includes curb extensions at cross streets and a narrower width to shorten crossing distances. Other features include a sidewalk-level protected bikeway along the entire corridor and enhanced transit stations with larger shelters offering light, heat, and real-time signage. The bus stops include railings and tactile guide strips to direct people walking and rolling—including people with limited or no vision—to safe crossings of the bikeway into the transit stations.