Access to Cottage Grove road a concern for future developmentCottage Grove economic development officials think they know why a sizable stretch of a busy Highway 61 frontage road remains resistant to commercial growth: access. Or, rather, a lack of it.
Cottage Grove economic development officials think they know why a sizable stretch of a busy Highway 61 frontage road remains resistant to commercial growth: access. Or, rather, a lack of it.
For a vehicle exiting the highway at 80th Street, getting to West Point Douglas Road can mean a frustrating wait at a pair of busy stoplights, three right turns and a wait for a passing freight train. That labyrinth of turns is scaring off possible retail development from the area, city officials say, and is driving early efforts to push for changes the city says would ease access to the underdeveloped commercial corridor.
Mayor Myron Bailey has been a longtime regional manager for a variety of retail store and says that in his experience retailers and other businesses shy away from locations where three or more turns off a main thoroughfare are required.
“That’s the reason we don’t see anything happening on (the West Point Douglas Road) corridor,” he said. “Access. (Retailers) say, ‘We can’t get there.’”
An early draft plan devised by the city shows the addition of a one-way slip ramp off of the 80th Street exit from Highway 61 that would allow direct access for motorists to West Point Douglas. Drivers would need to use the current, longer route to merge back onto the highway.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation, however, has expressed little enthusiasm for the proposal.
“We look (for) safe and reasonable access,” Minnesota Department of Transportation engineer Adam Josephson told the city’s Economic Development Authority in a meeting last week. “And we see (the current configuration) as safe and reasonable.”
Josephson cited a litany of concerns MnDOT would have with a reconfigured route from 80th Street to West Point Douglas, including driver confusion and a close proximity to nearby railroad tracks and stormwater infrastructure.
Despite MnDOT’s stance, the city will still move forward with exploring how to modify access to the frontage road, with City Council member Justin Olsen asserting “there has to be something workable if this isn’t it.”
Cottage Grove Administrator Ryan Schroeder said the city’s study is intended “just to get some budget numbers.” The cost of improving access to West Point Douglas would most likely top $1 million, he said. Officials will also reexamine whether the city’s long-term plans for the area should continue to focus on retail, or whether office park-type uses would make more sense.
“One thing we’ll need to evaluate is maybe it shouldn’t be perceived as retail land,” Schroeder said.
Because of MnDOT’s stance that the current access is adequate, Schroeder said the city would likely be forced to foot the entire bill for any improvements made.
If the mostly empty land immediately south of Highway 61 along West Point Douglas Road is, indeed, going to become a retail area, changes need to be made, Olsen said.
“Access equals development — period,” he said. “As MnDOT, you may think that access works. But, as a customer, it’s a pain in the (butt).”