Sign to Newport seems far awayReconstruction of Highway 61 may have done wonders for southeast metro commuters. To Newport businesses, though, it wasn’t quite magic — they worry it made them disappear to those motoring past on Highway 61.
By: Jon Avise, South Washington County Bulletin
Reconstruction of Highway 61 may have done wonders for southeast metro commuters. To Newport businesses, though, it wasn’t quite magic — they worry it made them disappear to those motoring past on Highway 61.
But an effort to place signage north and south of the Glen Road interchange directing drivers to the city’s business district stalled recently in the Minnesota Legislature, another setback for small businesses hit with a half-decade full of construction.
“If you don’t know you’re looking for the Glen Road exit it’s tough to know ... that’s where you’re going to get off” to reach Newport’s businesses, said Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL – Cottage Grove.
The bill, authored by Sieben, would have instructed the Minnesota Department of Transportation to construct signs in both directions on Highway 61, identifying and displaying directions to Newport businesses. But when the legislation failed to get a hearing in the House, the hopes for signage hit a wall.
MnDOT has strict regulations on the amount and placement of roadside signage, making the state Capitol effort necessary for the proposed business district sign.
Sieben said the department of transportation has been unwilling to work with the city or legislators on the road signs business leaders say are needed to alert drivers unfamiliar with the area. She said transportation officials “really fought us on putting up the sign for Newport.”
“It’s ridiculous,” Sieben said. “The city of Newport was split by the highway improvement project, so it just makes a lot of common sense, I think, to make sure commuters know where to exit because the look of the city changed so much.”
Bart Fischer, Newport’s director of economic development, said while the reconstruction of Highway 61 has made it easier for the city’s residents to traverse the busy highway and move from the east side of town to the west, it also became easier for motorists to zoom past.
Often drivers aren’t even aware they’re in Newport, Fischer said, now unimpeded by three stoplights that used to slow them as they drove through the city.
Commuters are “kind of rolling through now, whereas before they might get stopped at a light” and see businesses along Hastings Avenue, he said.
Fischer said city officials also asked MnDOT to add ‘Newport’ to Glen Road exit signs, again to no avail.
Newport has also proposed a stone monument-style welcome sign to be part of landscape improvements at the Glen Road interchange — all an effort just to let drivers know they’re there.
Jon Avise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.