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Transportation Plan Consensus Using Hands-On Public Engagement Strategies in Prior Lake, MN

Prior Lake, MN, USA
Bolton & Menk

Government Champion

Scott County, City of Prior Lake, Minnesota Department of Transportation

Cost

Initial:
13.2 Million USD

Project Status

Operational since 2020

At a Glance

Stakeholders have debated about intersection improvements on a key highway intersection in Downtown Prior Lake for 15+ years without agreement. To develop a transportation plan the city utilized robust, public engagement that fostered trust among parties seeing the value of necessary updates.

Problem Addressed

Improvements to the Trunk Highway (TH) 13, County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 21 intersection in Prior Lake, Minnesota had been a recurring topic of discussion for the past 15+ years. The intersection and adjacent corridor lacked the capacity to move traffic safely and efficiently, causing safety concerns in the community.

While a recommended plan was adopted by the County Board of Commissioners in 2005, significant concerns were raised and major conflicts existed between access and mobility, roadway classification, and community needs. The board experienced a tremendous amount of resistance from a divided community with conflicting values and mistrust, while having to consider the consequences on the adjacent downtown. Key stakeholders were unable to form a plan that they all agreed upon, preventing the improvement project from taking off. All the while, the intersection was still a growing problem.

The project team was faced with adverse conditions before the corridor study even began. The nearly two-decade-long uncertainty over what to do on this corridor and the ongoing debate of who gets to decide what is best, left community and agency stakeholders entrenched in distrust and pessimism for the future. A level of trust and overall consensus that all parties were invested in making a positive change in the community had to be built and fostered throughout the extensive three-plus-year process.

The City of Prior Lake, Scott County, and MnDOT used/is using Bolton & Menk’s public engagement and transportation planning services to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

By prioritizing communication and engagement, Bolton & Menk led an innovative and comprehensive public engagement effort using various outreach formats, bringing multiple government agencies and community members into the same room for discussion. The goals were to engage the public, build trust between governing agencies and the public, and develop a solution that could be supported by stakeholders. The visioning study was used to level the playing field, start over, and identify important community values. 

The transparent design and communication created project advocates throughout the community that had the information and background knowledge to describe the benefits and trade-offs of all considered alternatives, not just their favorite option. This intensive engagement process allowed Bolton & Menk to make a construction recommendation that was fully supported by all stakeholders because it was clear which recommendations best supported the overall vision for the community's future.

Planted medians and roundabouts, grass boulevards, decorative pavement, an ornamental railing reflecting the character of the community, wayfinding signage, a community banner pole across the county highway, and abstract sailboats in the medians are just a few of the elements that go above and beyond the “standard treatment.”

The city is amply committed to maintain these enhanced features, with the downtown area already seeing redevelopment. Additional enhancements to the streetscape elements along CSAH 21 are still continuing to develop as private investors are coming forward to further improve or expand on this project. The commitment of the city’s public works department transformed this project from one that would merely solve a transportation issue to a project that has defined a community.

Outcomes

  1. Highway intersection improvements resulting from collaboration between government officials and the public, agreed upon by previously divided key stakeholders after 15+ years of stalemate
  2. Newfound trust between government agencies and the community because of the project’s multi-agency participation
  3. More local and regional mobility and access through the highway’s improved corridor function
  4. Greater pedestrian and bicycle access and safety with a new regional trail and two-stage pedestrian crossing
  5. A sense of arrival and enhanced community identity with unique streetscape elements

Something Unique

The Institute of Transportation Engineers recognized City of Prior Lake and Scott County with the 2021 Transportation Achievement Award for Traffic Engineering for this project! The award recognizes those in the traffic engineering category based on excellence in the advancement of transportation to meet human needs, by entities concerned with transportation such as governmental agencies, legislative bodies, consulting firms, industry, and other organizations.

Who Should Consider?

Communities where stakeholders hold conflicting opinions on improvement projects.

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