“We didn’t accomplish much but we made some progress, how’s that?” With those words Stearns County Commissioner Leigh Lenzmeier perfectly summed up the latest incremental action on an 18-year debate about an increasingly busy road between St. Joseph and Sartell.
The county board met Dec. 13 to consider a CR133 alignment study for a new connection on the west side of Sartell. City and county leaders generally agree there needs to be a new path for the 6.8-mile road that carries commuters and freight between Interstate 94 and St. Joseph to Highway 10 on the east side of Sartell.
As far back as 2004, planners worked on a solution that would be part of a beltway around the St. Cloud area. The housing development crash in 2008-2009 stopped the discussion.
The basic challenge now is what path CR 133 should take through Sartell to make the easiest connection between Sixth Street S. and Second Street S. Planners have to deal with traffic flow, wetlands, housing developments and property owners in the potential paths.
Currently, the road designated as CR 133 runs along Sixth Street until it connects with Pinecone Road at a roundabout. Then the traffic heads north to Second Street and another roundabout before going east across the Mississippi River to Highway 10.
Sartell leaders would like a path that keeps traffic off Pinecone Road. The Le Sauk town board favors the Sixth Street/Pinecone route, designated Alternative D in the alignment study. The second route that was favored is called Alternative C. That route envisions a sweeping S-shaped route from Sixth Street north to Theisen Road where a four-lane Second Street ends. It’s Sartell’s own road to nowhere with barricades marking the spot where the road turns south, presumably where a future connection to Sixth Street would run.
After a 35-minute discussion of Alternatives C and D and revisiting Alternative A, a route running farther north and west of the city but through wetlands, the board supported making a connection between Theisen Road and CR and directed staff to continue environmental and engineering investigations to determine the best route. County Engineer Jodi Teich and Sartell City Administrator Anna Gruber said they could live with that plan.
Gruber said it’s “crucial” that Pinecone Road not be in the route because of traffic congestion. Teich added that farm equipment and big trucks have trouble navigating the Pinecone/Sixth Street roundabout. Commissioner Joe Perske, whose district includes Sartell and St. Joseph, said bringing traffic down Pinecone Road is “terrible.”
While the recent focus has been on the Sartell end of CR 133, the St. Joseph portion needs attention as well. Drivers turning onto CR 133 between McDonald’s and Coborn’s find a busy two-lane road with commercial, industrial and residential development on both sides. St. Joseph will continue to attract more development … and more traffic … replacing farm fields. For a few miles, CR 133 does travel through wide-open spaces, but growth from both cities continues to eat up those farm fields.
More high-speed traffic on a road with many intersections is a growing safety hazard. Planners need to step up the pace improving all of CR 133. It connects two fast-growing cities.
Continued debate and incremental steps trying to find a perfect route will be outpaced by development and traffic growth, making future decisions and a desire to please everyone even harder.
Lenzmeier got right to the point at the end of the county board discussion: “We’ve got to keep this moving.”