Brouhaha over Birchwood Road closure heats up – Twin Cities
When Washington County construction crews closed a section of Wildwood Road in Mahtomedi this spring, drivers immediately began looking for alternate routes.
The officially designated detour sends drivers on Interstate 694, Minnesota Highway 36 and the Hilton Trail, but a more direct route, which drivers soon discovered, is Birchwood Road in Birchwood, with a population of 875. just south of White Bear Lake.
“Our little road instantly became the new highway,” Birchwood Mayor Mary Wingfield said. “Traffic was crushing, virtually non-stop. We had people disobeying stop signs, crossing a double yellow line and doing 50 in a 25 mph zone.
A cyclist was cut and ejected from his bike, and there were “a few near hits” involving children, she said. “It was just chaos.”
COUNCIL VOTED TO CLOSURE THE ROAD
Birchwood Town Council met on May 10 and voted to close the road. Barricades and “road closed” signs were erected later in the week.
“It was going to be a long summer if we had a caravan of vehicles driving through our town all day,” Wingfield said. “It was just a matter of safety trump convenience – nothing more than that. It’s not a thoroughfare. It’s a residential street. We’re allowed to do that, and it was in our interest in doing so.
A few days after the road was closed, Birchwood officials called a special meeting and voted to allow the eastbound lane of the 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. road and the westbound lane of 2 p.m. h 30 to 4:30 p.m. to welcome the school. traffic during the school year.
“But that ended up being more problematic for us because people were getting mixed signals,” Wingfield said.
Accommodation for school traffic ended on Thursday, which was the last day of school for public schools in Mahtomedi.
Mahtomedi officials criticized Birchwood Town Council’s decision to close the road, saying it had “created havoc” and “essentially locked down” Mahtomedi residents.
“We are extremely disappointed with the lack of notice we have received regarding Birchwood’s decision, and your inability to engage or even discuss the proposed closure with Mahtomedi prior to the unexpected road closure,” wrote Mayor Jud Marshall in a May 17 letter. “Your action does a disservice to the residents of both towns…and creates significant hardship for the residents of Mahtomedi who live near the closure.”
The closure, he said in an interview Friday, has hurt local businesses and restaurants and made it difficult for emergency responders to enter Birchwood and serve residents of both towns.
VERY DEBATED ON SOCIAL NETWORKS
The road closure was hotly debated on social media. Some of those upset with the decision have called Wingfield home. Others moved the barricades while driving in the area — an action Wingfield says is illegal and could result in a $300 fine.
One person threw a bag of sand, used to hold up the sign, into a nearby tree, she said. Thursday night, someone robbed one of the barricades.
“The backlash has been incredible,” Wingfield said. “You would think we killed someone’s firstborn, and yet that’s what we’re trying to avoid. We don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Why there is this enormous hustle and bustle is beyond us. Is this the new reality where if something goes wrong with you, you throw a tantrum? »
On Tuesday morning, a young man got out of the front passenger seat of a silver SUV and moved the barricade so the SUV could pass. Several other cars – heading in each direction – quickly followed suit.
“It’s Whac-A-Mole,” Wingfield said, referring to the arcade game. “Someone will come out and put it back in place, then they will move it again. No wonder people get upset when they think it’s open, but it’s not.
Birchwood Town Council is holding a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Birchwood Town Hall “to consider alternatives to the existing road closure”, according to the agenda posted online. Among the options currently being considered: temporary speed bumps, making part of the roadway one-way, lowering the speed limit to 20 mph and installing a weight limit for the roadway.
“What we have now is not usable for the summer,” she said. “It’s only a temporary palliative.”
The $5.9 million construction project on Wildwood Road, also known as Washington County Road 12, is expected to be completed in October.
The project, which stretches from Century Avenue to Stillwater Boulevard, includes: pavement replacement, new signage and striping; improved pedestrian crossings; a traffic light at Wedgewood Drive and an off-road multi-use trail on part of Wildwood Road. The project will also include the addition of dedicated left-turn lanes at major intersections.
Birchwood officials called for increased law enforcement “both at the barricade and in the town to flood the area and inform the public that compliance is mandatory,” Wingfield said. “We didn’t have that. Consequently, there was only jumble. There has been no uniform conformity, so there is basically anarchy.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has received about 15 calls for service since May 13 related to concerns about the construction project; two quotes have been written that relate directly to driving around closures/ignoring signage.
Sheriff Dan Starry said his office has partnered with the county’s Department of Public Works to increase patrols in the area.
“We understand the concerns of residents, city leaders and adjacent neighborhoods regarding the closure and increased traffic volume,” Starry said. “We will continue to increase patrols for the duration of this construction project and urge all motorists to practice safe driving practices and obey all posted speed limits.”
“IT WAS FRUSTRATING”
Kellie Cardinal, who lives on Birchwood Road, said she hopes the council reverses its decision to close the entire road.
Cardinal is a general contractor who has an office at home. She said the detour adds about 15 to 20 minutes to her return trip, which she sometimes does three or four times a day.
“With gas prices, it’s just super expensive,” said Cardinal, who drives a Dodge Ram 1500. “It’s frustrating. is not open.
Birchwood’s decision “to unilaterally cut off public streets and access to local pharmacies and grocery stores is outrageous,” said Mahtomedi resident Emmett Coleman. “This makes construction disruption significantly more difficult for the wider community.”
But White Bear Township residents Lanny and Peggy Smaagard, who cycled through the area on Tuesday, said they hoped the road would remain closed to traffic.
“It’s unfortunate, but it makes sense,” Lanny said. “If you open it up to cars, trucks will come through, and nobody wants that. It’s such a narrow road. I can see why people are upset, but Birchwood has a right to do that.