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Brainerd School Board: Study addresses anticipated school traffic congestion

Tim Houle, a vice president at Widseth Smith Nolting, said the Brainerd School District has a bevy of options to consider if they're going to mitigate heavy traffic around Forestview Middle School and the neighboring new Baxter Elementary School site. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 2
An aerial shot of the area in question -- Forestview Middle School on the left, Knollwood Drive down the center and the proposed new Baxter Elementary School site in the right-hand undeveloped plot. Satellite image / Google Earth2 / 2

With plans underway to build the new Baxter Elementary in spitting distance of Forestview Middle School—neighbors across Knollwood Drive—traffic looks to take on whole new dimensions for that stretch of roadway.

As such, Brainerd School District staff and civil engineers have a number of options to consider, said Tim Houle, a vice president of architectural-engineering firm Widseth Smith Nolting and an administrator of the study.

In an update to the Brainerd School Board, Monday, Aug. 13, Houle said neighboring roadways will need to be reshaped—possibly in significant ways to account for the surges in traffic at the beginning of the school day and at its closing, when parents are dropping off and picking up their children in droves.

"We are dealing with a half-hour in the morning, a half-hour in the afternoon about 3 p.m.—very concentrated, very large numbers of vehicles," Houle advised the board. "We all want to pull up to the front door and get away in five minutes. It's pretty difficult economically to do something like that."

Proposals to ease traffic were tossed around in previous meetings—most notably, constructing a roundabout at the intersection of Knollwood Drive and Mapleton Road south of the two school sites, as well as connecting the currently incomplete Jasperwood Drive, which factors as an important point in the city of Baxter's future plans.

These and other alternatives stand as possible solutions, Houle noted, and while the traffic study's findings may point to a couple of favorable options, the study should be used as a foundational document, not the final word.

"That traffic study has a lot of variables," Houle said. "So that's why we're not going to come down to one option—'This is it.'"

According to an abbreviated report submitted to the board, the Baxter schools traffic study indicates a number of concerns and possible directions to take for both parties involved—the Brainerd School District and the city of Baxter, which share the roadways and may shoulder some of the costs together.

According to the traffic study, consultants have made the following findings:

• Converting Knollwood Drive to a one-way road is not cost effective due to how difficult it is to ease traffic congestion along Mapleton Road and Knollwood Drive.

• Keeping Knollwood Drive a two-way road requires the least number of changes, when compared to the one-way and cul-de-sac layouts, whether Baxter Elementary School is located on Knollwood Drive or Jasperwood Drive.

• Vacating the section of Knollwood Drive between the south-central access and south access to the future school's parcel, creating two cul-de-sac style roads, requires slightly more mitigation than the two-way road layout but eases traffic better through the addition of a safe, non-vehicle traveled connection between the schools.

• Sufficient operations can be achieved with Baxter Elementary School located off Jasperwood Drive or Knollwood Drive. However, more changes are required if located on Knollwood Drive due to the consolidation of school traffic.

• Knollwood Drive experiences significantly lower vehicle traffic outside of the school peak hours and any changes should incorporate this information. Some intersections are projected to operate with delays or traffic numbers higher than preferred during the school peak periods, however, these surges are projected to be accounted for by revamped roadway infrastructure and only happen occasionally during peak hours.

With these findings in mind, the report states a two-way roadway—with cross-traffic sharing Knollwood Drive, instead of making it a single-direction route—or incorporating a pair of cul-de-sacs pose as the most feasible options.

By the recommendation of consultants, whichever plan is chosen should include:

• A dedicated right turn lane into the selected middle school drop-off/pick-up loop to prevent spill over.

• A two-lane wide pick-up/drop-off zone loop for both schools to provide space for vehicles to pull out of line without blockages.

• Two inbound receiving lanes—one dedicated for drop-off/pick-up and one dedicated for parking vehicles—for Baxter Elementary School layouts in which parking and drop-off/pick-up traffic enters the same access.

• Separated outbound lanes from the school accesses and on Jasperwood Drive onto Mapleton Road to split out right-turning and thru/left-turning movements.

• Connections to existing bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure to support safe routes for students to walk or bike to school.

• Investigation of the potential of staggered class start and stop times to help dampen the peaking of traffic during the morning and afternoon school peak periods.

• Distribution of information to parents setting expectations on school operations.

• Addition of faculty or volunteer presence in the parking lots and drop-off/pick-up area to help reinforce preferred operations and help students load/unload from vehicles.