The Watertown City Council unanimously voted the Madison Street corridor as the pedestrian connection between the downtown area of Lewis Avenue and Highway 25 during their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 28.
In response to improvements being made along Highway 25 by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and as part of Watertown’s 2020 Capital Investment Plan, the council began contemplating a pedestrian connection and asked for more study of Territorial Street. The city also went to the public for input. The council directed staff to look into Madison Street after public input was received for Territorial Street.
The council members also addressed some remaining questions before a decision was made. Council member Lindsay Guetzkow asked if there would be any extra snow removal time based on which option they chose. According to city staff, there would be a small amount of time added to street snow removal if there is no boulevard.
“I will go on the record to say I do not support the city plowing sidewalks because you do it once, you do it everywhere. That’s my humble opinion,” Mayor Steve Washburn said.
During the discussion, council member Deborah Everson asked if residents expressed concern about the students who walk to school. Staff responded saying the community has shown concern for crossing Territorial Street; however, that does exist now. Guetzknow then mentioned she has talked with school board members who have students that avoid busy intersections by crossing over to Madison.
After public hearings and comment cards from residents, the public expressed likes and dislikes for a pedestrian connection on Territorial Street and Madison Street. Comments included concerns about safety, maintenance and loss of trees.
“We’ve been talking about this a lot as business owners,” Watertown Area Chamber of Commerce President and business owner Kyle Jarvis said to the council members. “[There are] a lot of safety concerns with the sidewalk or trail up at Territorial...When my daughter is 10 or 11 or 12 years old and she’s off riding her bicycle after school, the last place I want her is next to Territorial.”
Jarvis continued to say having a sidewalk on Madison Street would bring traffic from both sides of town to the center of the business district while also acknowledging that the district will be changing in the next 10 years. “But for right now, it is where it is. It’s Lewis Avenue. It’s the heart of downtown” and drawing traffic downtown is a “no-brainer.”
According to city administrator Shane Fineran, approximately 6,000 vehicles travel the Territorial Street corridor on an average day. Improvements to Territorial Street are also included in the city’s 2020 Capital Improvement Plan. Average daily traffic along Madison Street was approximately 1,000 vehicles in 2019, according to city data.
City council also approved proposed Madison Street Option 1, which includes a new six-foot wide, two block sidewalk with no boulevard and with repairs made to portions of existing sidewalk. Construction would also impact two trees. The city budgeted $219,000 for the project, but option 1 is only estimated to cost approximately $201,000.
“Seeing that trail come up to Madison seems like more of a natural connection at this time. I also see it as a good connection for future growth of Watertown,” Everson said while explaining why she made the motion in support of Madison Street. Guetzkow agreed with Everson and added pedestrian safety contributed to her support for Madison.
Council member Adam Pawelk then recalled discussing a connection to downtown using Territorial a few years back. No decision was made at that time but gave staff a place to start when the city was approached with the opportunity to construct an additional sidewalk.
“I think the good thing that we’ve done is taking the pragmatic approach..We started out with one thing, we got input and I think that’s the important part,” Washburn said and added that Madison Street is what works for the city now.