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Council Notes: City to Further Analyze Highway 100 Plans

St. Louis Park has retained a consultant to look at potential traffic impacts.

This is a recap of the City Council meeting held on Monday, Feb. 7.

Monday night offered another chance for the St. Louis Park City Council to delve into , this time deciding they want a better analysis of what potential changes could mean for the city before making a project recommendation to MnDOT.

To that end, the city has retained the services of engineering consulting firm SEH. The firm will look at the potential local traffic impacts of various proposals that MnDOT, or the Minnesota Department of Transportation, has presented (Editor's Note: See the attached PDFs at right for a look at these proposals). MnDOT is the agency ultimately responsible for Highway 100.

One key area that will be analyzed is the potential closure of the West 27th Street exit. MnDOT wants to close the exit to improve safety, but the city is worried about the loss of highway access in that area, particularly if the that is nearby shifts to a commercial or residential use. This, council said, could increase traffic in the area.

City manager Tom Harmening said the closure of the West 27th Street exit is one area where the city could potentially challenge MnDOT, particularly if SEH’s analysis shows that closing it could have a drastic impact.

Councilwoman Sue Sanger cautioned that in the Birchwood Neighborhood, which is near the exit, there is currently a difference of opinion about closing the exit. She said she’d want to have them involved in any future discussions about the issue, to which the rest of council generally agreed.

No matter what direction the city goes, MnDOT wants it to happen soon. The agency hopes to have a final, detailed layout prepared by June, then have that plan approved by the city by the end of the year. The city gets that kind of say because of the state’s municipal consent provision, which mandates that MnDOT get local approval of projects of this scope. However, MnDOT could potentially push ahead on Highway 100 without consent, although the project would likely be delayed because of a lengthy appeals process. City public works director Mike Rardin said MnDOT could also potentially reduce the scope of the project so it essentially only involves the state highway, and not any city side streets. Such a project would not require St. Louis Park’s consent.

Construction on Highway 100 is slated for 2016.

Council approves raise for city manager

Also Monday, council approved a 2.25 percent increase of the city manager’s salary, consistent with raises given to non-organized employees, police officers and sergeants in 2011.

With the raise, Tom Harmening now makes $151,866. Per state law, this is the most that a city manager can make. He did not receive a raise in 2010.  Harmening has been with the city in one capacity or another since 1995.

Speaking of city managers…

A group of students from Minnesota State University-Mankato were on hand Monday to take in the meeting as well.

The students, who study at the school’s Edina campus, are in the class “Foundations of Urban Planning and Management.” Professor Beth Wielde Heidelberg said the class, which consists of juniors and seniors, as well as graduate students, had just recently studied city hall policy and procedure, adding that many of her students aspire to be city managers or planners.

“This was literally a last minute thing,” she said of taking her class to the meeting. “It really piggy-backed on our last subject.”

Wielde Heidelberg said this was the first time she had ever taken a class to a city council meeting. And while the meeting wasn’t particularly controversial, the professor did pick a good city manager for her class to observe — Harmening graduated from Mankato’s graduate program in 1988.

“That was fantastic,” Wielde Heidelberg said of the coincidence.

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