The Highway 169 corridor is an important north-south arterial route in central Minnesota. This route connects Minnesota’s central lakes region and the greater Twin Cities metropolitan area with the growing trade centers of Elk River, Zimmerman, and Princeton. The highway plays an important role serving commuters and recreational users, and connecting economic centers in the state. Because of its important role in the transportation system, Highway 169 is designated as part of the National Highway System, as well as Minnesota’s Interregional Corridor System.
In 2002, MnDOT developed a Corridor Management Plan for Highway 101/169 from Rogers to Garrison. The plan recommended a long-term corridor vision for Highway 169 as a freeway facility.
Currently Highway 169 is a four-lane divided highway with at-grade roadway and driveway intersections, traffic signals at major intersections, and limited frontage and backage road systems. This roadway plays an important role serving commuters and recreational users, and connecting economic centers in the state. Due to its critical function in the state’s transportation system, Highway 169 is designated as part of Minnesota’s Interregional Corridor System (IRC). The emphasis of the IRC system is to provide efficient connections between and among regional trade centers. In 2002, a Corridor Management Plan was developed for Highway 101/169 from Rogers to Garrison. According to this plan, by 2030 the Highway 169 corridor will no longer meet performance targets established for interregional corridors unless improvements are made to the roadway. The plan recommended a long-term corridor vision for Highway 169 as a freeway facility.
In response to increasing traffic volumes, the number of at-grade intersections, and the mix of vehicles on the highway, the Highway 169 Preliminary Design and Environmental Documentation-Elk River to Zimmerman are being prepared to identify ways to convert the roadway to a safer, more mobile freeway. The segment of Highway 169 being studied extends from Highway 10 in Elk River to 277th Avenue in Zimmerman. The study will recommend a system of interchanges and frontage/backage road systems along Highway 169 to improve mobility and safety along the corridor.
An important step in the study process is identifying needs and benefits for corridor improvements. Interchange and frontage road alternatives will be evaluated based on how well they respond to these needs and benefits.
Because of its important role in the transportation system, Highway 169 is designated as part of the National Highway System, a system of 160,000 miles of roadway that is important to the nation’s economy, defense, and mobility. Highway 169 has also been identified as part of Minnesota’s Interregional Corridor System. Interregional Corridors are intended to provide safe, timely and efficient movement of goods and people and provide connections between and among regional trade centers. According to the Highway 169 Corridor Management Plan, by 2030 the Highway 169 corridor will no longer meet performance targets established for interregional corridors unless improvements are made to the roadway. The conversion of Highway 169 to a freeway facility from Elk River to Zimmerman through the construction of interchanges and frontage/backage road systems will improve safety and mobility on this important corridor.
The Highway 169 corridor is an important north-south arterial route in central Minnesota. This route connects Minnesota’s central lakes region with the greater Twin Cities metropolitan area and the growing trade centers of Elk River, Zimmerman, and Princeton. Highway 169 plays an important role serving commuters, connecting economic centers in the state, and serving recreational users. Converting Highway 169 to a freeway facility will provide a more safe and reliable connection between key economic and recreational destinations.
Traffic volumes in the study area have increased substantially in recent years. Between 1996 and 2004, average daily traffic volumes on Highway 169 in Elk River have increased by 5.2 percent per year, a change of about 17,000 vehicles per day over the eight year period. During this same time period, traffic volumes in Zimmerman increased by 3.3 percent per year, a change of roughly 10,000 vehicles per day over the eight year period. This growth is expected to continue as development extends outward from the Twin Cities metropolitan area. During recreational periods traffic volumes are very high, sometimes more than double average daily volumes. This recreational traffic often consists of larger vehicles pulling trailers and traveling at slower speeds, which reduces capacity on the roadway. Highway 169 also carries a significant amount of truck traffic. Much of this traffic is generated by landfills and significant aggregate resources located along Highway 169 between Elk River and Zimmerman. The use of the landfill and aggregate resources is likely to increase as these types of resources in and around the Twin Cities area become depleted. As volumes continue to increase on Highway 169, congestion and delay at intersections and access points will worsen. Constructing interchanges and frontage/backage roads to replace at-grade intersections and traffic signals will increase the available capacity on Highway 169.
Safety on Highway 169 is a concern due to high mainline traffic volumes and speeds, as well as at-grade intersections and a mix of large and small vehicles. A significant concern, with respect to safety, is the growing volumes which limit the number of gaps available for users accessing Highway 169 at unsignalized intersections. As volumes increase, users will take more risks when entering the traffic stream from side streets and safety problems will likely increase. Current safety information was analyzed for both the Zimmerman and Elk River segments of Highway 169. The results are summarized below.
Key findings for the Elk River area include:
The Highway 169 intersections at Main Street and School Street were in the district's top 20 intersections with the highest number of crashes (43 crashes at each intersection between 2000 and 2002, the most recent years for which this data is available).
At the corridor level, approximately 320 crashes occurred on Highway 169 between Highway 10 and County Highway 25 between 2003 and 2005 (the most recent years for which this data is available). Of these, one crash included a fatality, 111 included injuries of varying degrees, and 210 included property damage only.
Based on the number of crashes and traffic volumes on the corridor from 2003 to 2005, the number of crashes and their severity on this section of Highway 169 are higher than similar roadways. The number of crashes and their severity at the intersections are at or below comparable intersections.
Removal of at-grade access to Highway 169 will reduce the number and severity of crashes on this roadway segment.
Key findings for the Zimmerman area include:
The Highway 169 intersection at County Highway 4 was in the district's top 5 intersections with the highest number of crashes (69 crashes between 2000 and 2002).
At the corridor level, approximately 145 crashes occurred on Highway 169 between County Highway 25 and 273rd Avenue between 2003 and 2005. Of these, four crashes included a fatality, 39 included injuries of varying degrees, and 102 included property damage only.
Based on the number of crashes and traffic volumes between 2003 and 2005, the number and severity of crashes at the County Highway 4 intersection are higher than at similar intersections, but the number and severity of crashes on the corridor are not higher than similar roadways.
Replacing the County Highway 4 intersection with an interchange and overpass/frontage road system will reduce the number and severity of crashes in this area.
This 13-mile segment of Highway 169 includes 44 at-grade intersections providing access to driveways and other roadways. The at-grade access points disrupt mainline mobility/traffic flow and create safety problems. Converting Highway 169 to a freeway facility would replace at-grade intersections with a system of frontage/backage roads, interchanges (providing access to and from the highway), and overpasses (a bridge over the highway but no access to/from the highway), improving safety and mobility for both mainline users as well as local residents and businesses accessing Highway 169.
Highway 169 serves many trucks and large recreational vehicles. Approximately six percent of daily traffic on the corridor consists of truck traffic. Much of this traffic is due to the movement of solid waste and aggregate resources from the landfill and gravel mining areas located between Elk River and Zimmerman. Improvement options will need to consider truck and large vehicle movements as well as bicyclists and pedestrians, users that need to safely cross Highway 169.
The Preferred Alternative was selected with the understanding that no funds have been allotted to construct these improvements. This timeline gives communities the opportunity to incorporate the identified highway improvements into local long-range planning documents and guide future land use in a way that will reduce construction and right-of-way impacts on the communities. This timeline also gives MnDOT an opportunity to stage the improvements. MnDOT anticipates constructing the County Highway 4 interchange first, with other interchanges constructed as funds become available until the corridor vision has been implemented.
The Highway 169 Preliminary Design and Environmental Documentation started in Spring 2006. Based on recommendations from the 2002 Corridor Management Plan, the study area was divided into two areas. The first includes the portion of Highway 169 through the Elk River area, while the second area includes the portion of Highway 169 through Zimmerman. Several alternatives for potential interchanges and frontage/backage road systems were identified and analyzed for both the Elk River and Zimmerman areas by the design team with support from Sherburne County, the City of Elk River, the City of Zimmerman, Livonia Township, and Baldwin Township staff representatives. The Preferred Build Alternative was identified after presenting and discussing impacts of the alternatives with elected officials from Sherburne County, the Elk River City Council, Zimmerman City Council, Livonia Township Board, and Baldwin Township Board.
The Preferred Alternative for the corridor consists of replacing existing at-grade intersections at Main Street, School Street, 193rd/Jackson Avenue, 197th Avenue, 221st Avenue, Sherburne County Highway 25/19, and Sherburne County Highway 4 with grade-separated interchanges, improving the systems interchange at Highway 169/10/101, and redirecting all other streets and driveways along Highway 169 to new frontage or backage roads proposed along the east and west sides of Highway 169. Preliminary, unapproved designs for the interchanges and frontage roads are available on the ‘Maps’ page of this project Web site.
The Highway 169 Elk River to Zimmerman Environmental Assessment/Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EA/EAW) was approved in fall 2010. The comment period for the EA/EAW was November 1 through December 20, 2010. The environmental review process was completed in 2013.