Residents, business owners sound off on Hwy. 61 Plan

By Bruce Karnick
Posted 3/16/23

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the City of Hastings held the third and final public meeting at Hastings City Hall around the redesign of the Vermillion Street Corridor (VSC) …

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Residents, business owners sound off on Hwy. 61 Plan


The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the City of Hastings held the third and final public meeting at Hastings City Hall around the redesign of the Vermillion Street Corridor (VSC) on Tuesday, March 2nd. The open house style meeting was to last from 5-7 p.m. with a presentation from the design team at 5:15 p.m. The presentation ran about 45 minutes and then guests were able to interact with representatives from the MNDOT in both the Council chamber and the meeting room on the second floor.

During the presentation, Project Engineer Bryant Ficek and Project Manager Tim Thoreen covered bits and pieces of the proposed plan for updating and improving the VSC. The project is divided into four different districts with varying differences in needs for the area: Downtown District which covers from 4th Street to 9th Street, Midtown District which covers from 9th Street to 16th Street, Vermillion District which covers from 16th Street to 26th Street and Southtown District which covers from 26th Street to 36th Street.

During the presentation, Ficek and Thoreen explained many of the ideas and the reasons behind them. Many of the ideas did not sit well with local business owners. One major area of concern was the Midtown District, especially the closures of so many left turn lanes as well as parking lot access for the businesses between Highway 55 and 14th Street. The presenters completely ignored this section during the presentation, which a majority of the people wanted an explanation of.

After the presentation, several people discussed how this project has a “my way or the highway” sort of feel that these changes are going to happen regardless of input.

That feeling extended into conversations with the elected officials in the room. Business owners were talking with Mayor Mary Fasbender about their concerns with the project. MnDOT representatives told people elements of the project were from city input, while city officials pointed back to MnDOT.

“We need you to stand up for small businesses, that is why we elected you,” said Dave Rondeau, owner of House of Wine and Liquor, to Mayor Fasbender.

That was the general consensus of the people around the room as others not directly involved in the conversation nodded their heads in agreement.

People were also looking for an explanation of why this project is so heavily focused on pedestrian traffic.

 Rondeau asked about this thought process and the response was a bit shocking.

“So, at the beginning of the study, we put cameras out at all the intersections, recorded for about a day, came back and counted everything,” said Ficek.

Rondeau followed up with, “So, a one-day snapshot? What day was that? What time of year? I want to know where these numbers come from.”

“I’ve put my life savings into buying this business,” explained Rondeau. “If you take that left turn lane out and close off one of my entrances, that is 30 percent of my business. I need to know what we are doing so I know how to plan my future because this is my future. I’ve got five years to figure this out because once this happens, my business value is gone.”

The changes for the Midtown District drew the most ire during the process, but there are also some good changes in that district. The first being at Todd Field. The Todd Field wall along Vermillion needs to change. It is time. Yes, Todd Field is a historic football stadium yet many of the features of the field have been upgraded. The tunnel under Vermillion Street was filled in and closed off, the bleachers on both sides have been rebuilt, the playing surface has been replaced, it is time to let go of the ugly and under functioning rock wall. The design changes to that end of Todd Field actually improve the functionality on both sides of the wall.

Right now, there is a 12-foot-wide lane, then a 7.5-foot-wide shoulder that acts as a turn lane, then there is a very poor excuse of a sidewalk that is six feet wide, then the wall angles out at the top toward the road. The proposed change leaves the 12-foot lane, changes the turn lane to 12 feet, puts in a true, seven foot wide sidewalk and a much more secure and sturdy perpendicular wall. The proposed design changes nothing for the fan experience or where fans can walk and makes it easier for students to retrieve any ball that makes it out of play.

The changes to the Walgreens parking lot and 11th Street make sense. Making 11th Street have its own turn lane and full street straight through as a right turn in only makes sense and folks travelling from the south will have an easy way into Walgreens. Those that need to head back to the south can easily take Sibley Street up to 15th Street to turn left or they can exit at 10th Street and turn left. Those coming from the north can easily use 10th Street as the access to Walgreens. Closing the direct access to Vermillion Street from the Walgreens lot eliminates a big congestion point.

Another change that makes sense is the addition of a light at 18th Street, along with aligning the two sides of 18th Street and ensuring there is enough space for the large trucks to make their turns safely for the flour mill.

The proposed offset pedestrian crossing is an intriguing idea for the Midtown area as well. Having more space at a controlled crossing will help the pedestrians that do cross near Perkins and Dairy Queen, which is one of the more pedestrian-heavy intersections.

In the Vermillion District, there were plenty of ideas that could work very well. It will just take some adjusting and some signage changes. The largest piece of this change is needing to add a street behind the established businesses to allow a light at 23rd Street to be the central turning point to those businesses. The addition of a pedestrian bridge across the Vermillion River is a welcome addition to pedestrian safety. The skinny sidewalks with no barrier on the bridge do not feel safe.

The Southtown District has two items that people were loving and hating: Roundabouts. The proposal includes two roundabouts, one at 36th Street as a way to dramatically slow traffic entering Hastings.

“A roundabout at that intersection is a great way to alert drivers to the fact that they are no longer on a highway type road. It will force a dramatic reduction in speed for those entering from the south,” explained Thoreen during the presentation.

Having a roundabout there would be a very clear change in the transition from country driving to city. The other location for a roundabout is at the Highway 316 and Vermillion Street intersection. That will put a total of five roundabouts on a 10-mile-long highway, but it is a location that will benefit from the traffic change. Both of the proposed roundabouts will be full-sized roundabouts with the one at 316 being a two-lane roundabout.

From researching the project and going through the various proposed ideas, it looks like roughly 75-80 percent of the proposed ideas are very feasible and good ideas. These ideas will require residents of Hastings to do something they struggle with at times and that is to accept that things change, but it can be done. The other 20-25 percent of the ideas really need to be discussed for changes. My way or the highway will not bode well for Hastings, and hopefully, our elected officials do as they were challenged to do at the meeting, stand up for small businesses.

The project website has been updated with the most recent ideas for the project that were not only presented at the meeting, but also discussed in detail after the presentation. There are many more graphics and photos up on the MNDOT website, Take time to look at them, see the proposals and give feedback to city officials. If they do not hear from residents, they cannot make recommendations on our behalf.