Conversations about transportation planning in the Duluth-Superior area. We are committed to seeking out and incorporating stakeholder input as a key part of our planning work. That’s where this blog comes in. We hope you will learn a bit more about what we’re recommending for transportation improvements in this area, and why. Please chime in with your comments and questions.

Open MIC Blog

The INTERNal Outsider: Collaboration Between (seemingly) Opposing Mindsets

An Intern’s-Eye View of the MIC

When you listen to the news long enough, you’ll find a recurring theme at the base of many major news stories: the environment versus the economy. You can find these opposing ideas in stories impacting regions as large as the nation, all the way down to our own city streets (google “TransCanada pipeline”, or “4th Street long-eared bats in Duluth”).

HTAC Mtg1The MIC, however, does put these two opposing views together in a room at least four times a year at the Harbor Technical Advisory Committee (HTAC) meetings. As one of the MIC’s three advisory committees, the stakeholders of the harbor are brought together for presentations and discussions with other stakeholders of the harbor. The 31 voting members of the HTAC include business owners, environmental groups, and local and state federal officials. Non-voting stakeholders are also invited to meeting to participate.

During my internship I attended two HTAC meetings and have also been helping out with tasks from the Port Land Use Plan. Topics at the HTAC meetings encompass both the environment and the economy and demonstrate how they are not mutually exclusive.  At these meetings we heard about what the regulatory agencies in the area are doing to take the harbor off of the national Area of Concern list, followed by a summary of how the economic development of the port supports the region and connects our economy to the rest of the world. A report on research done on the economic impact of ports throughout the Great Lakes is followed by a description of the habitat restoration being done in Radio Tower Bay and a discussion on the impacts of ballast water.

Beyond these quarterly meetings, the MIC staff facilitates subcommittee meetings that get into even more depth of how the decisions of each side impacts the other.  The Open DuluthHarborAerialViewWater Mitigation subcommittee, for example, creates a working group for the regulatory agencies and the investors of the port to discuss their individual goals of restoration within the St. Louis River estuary and development within the harbor.  The objective of this group is for the Minnesota DNR and PCA, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, to help other entities such as the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, port businesses, and engineering and planning firms, understand how to get through the environmental permitting process for new construction.  Although much of the discussion went over my head, the desire to understand each other and wanting to be better understood was palpable.

The atmosphere at both of the HTAC meetings, along with both Open Water Mitigation subcommittee meetings, amazed me. The classic ever-battling mindsets are getting together on a regular basis to understand one another and to create a better setting for growth on each side.

One function I’ve come to appreciate about the MIC is that, as a neutral transportation planning organization, it is uniquely situated to support this type of coordination and collaboration.  Because the MIC is tasked by federal highway legislation with a primary responsibility of creating opportunities for public participation for all modes of transportation, the MIC includes funding and staffing resources for this harbor group in its annual work program. It serves as a much-needed, often-lacking champion or sponsor to gather diverse and unrelated stakeholders together as one group.

This type of collaboration is almost unheard of throughout the rest of the United States. In fact, the other ports of the Great Lakes are looking to the HTAC as a model to create this same type of collaboration between these two opposing mindsets.

From what I’ve seen so far, other port communities could benefit from an HTAC-type of group if their goals include improved outreach, education, state and local level participation and grassroots support for maritime industry.

 

Erica H-150pxErica Hansen is finishing up her final semester at the University of Wisconsin – Superior in the Transportation and Logistics Management program. She is intrigued by looking at transportation from a different side than freight movement, and helping to create an efficient and safe transportation network for the Duluth-Superior area. The INTERNal Outsider is her account of some of her work and observations while working as an intern for the MIC.

 

The INTERNal Outsider: Adventures in Excel

An Intern’s-Eye View of the MIC

 

Bikes, peds…

Did you realize that on just fourteen streets in Duluth and Superior during one 12-hour period in September, there are around 1,240 uses of infrastructure by bicyclists, and 5,896 uses of infrastructure by pedestrians? The entire town I live in (around 900 people) would have to walk back and forth more than six times to get that pedestrian count.

I am going to guess that your answer is no, you had no idea the extent of the infrastructure used by alternative transportation in Duluth and Superior.

I’m also guessing that most of you also don’t know the extent of the effort that goes into this 5×19-cell table.BP Count Spreadsheet-314px

This is the fourth year of the biannual bicycle and pedestrian counts. James Gittemeier, senior planner at the MIC, and Shawna Mullen-Eardley of the Healthy Duluth Area Coalition determine count data sites, recruit and coordinate volunteers, and lead volunteer training. After attending training, each volunteer* is asked to sit for two hours at a count site and fill out a form noting direction of travel, users by demographic (male, female, child, using assistive device), and mode of transportation (walking, biking, “other”). (The method for the count was created by the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project).

Are you getting a better idea of what goes into this seemingly simple chart?

After the day is over and all of the forms are gathered, the amazingly talented and intelligent intern (hey that’s me!) gets to decipher the notes of dozens of volunteers. The data gets entered into Excel by 15 minute increments for each demographic and each mode of transportation. Lucky for me, there is already an Excel spreadsheet that is set up to create the totals. I then finagle Excel to make those totals magically appear into this chart.

Don’t think this chart is the final product, either! After the data is entered and the totals are gathered, we begin an analysis of how the trends in the data will have an effect on future decision making for alternative transportation infrastructure. Excel is very useful in the analysis portion. So far I’ve created around 50 charts to get a better idea of visible trends.

Although I will concede that the data is not perfect – human error in counting and entering the data – the numbers tell an interesting story: The people of Duluth and Superior are outside and active.

*A huge thank you to all volunteers whether you did more than asked or did just as much as you could

…and buses (oh my!)

I can’t talk about all the time I’ve spent in Excel the last two weeks without also bringing buses into the mix.

Robert Herling, my supervisor and another senior planner at the MIC, has been researching the infrastructure use in the Lincoln Park for the Multi-modal Study that’s underway for that neighborhood.

One important aspect of this research is looking into the use of public transit.Garfield bus stop bus in sight-175px

Have you ever had to transfer between two city buses to find that either the last one left just minutes prior to your arrival, or you have less than five minutes to get to the bus stop on the other side of an intersection? You should try it some time.

Robert tasked me with finding out how often this occurs for a few of the major transfers in the Lincoln Park area, from the mainline at 21st Ave W and Superior Street to the mall lines, as well as the mainline at Superior Street and Garfield to the Superior, Wisconsin line. A misstep in scheduling is not a rare occurrence for these bus users, but don’t fret! Our loyal transit authorities are not overlooking this issue.

Thanks for taking the time to join me on my journey to find out what the MIC is all about. Now I must get back to my spreadsheets.

The INTERNal Outsider

An Intern’s-Eye View of the MIC

 

Meet Erica Hansen

In my time as a student in the Transportation and Logistics Management program at UW-Superior, I have become increasingly enamored with the dynamics of transportation.Rail mounted gantry crane in the Port Everglades seaport

You might even describe me as a freight transportation enthusiast (rubber tyre gantry cranes get me fired up, okay?). The more I learn about this behind-the-scenes industry, the more apparent its presence becomes.

A few months ago when I began my journey to becoming a MIC intern, I found that there is even a behind-the-scenes transportation planning world to my behind-the-scenes freight transportation world.

I have learned that at the MIC office, “comfort level” speaks not to the ergonomics of my work space (still getting used to the stand-up desk), but to how people feel walking and biking down a road.  They give you a booklet on the first day of the acronyms you’ll hear on a daily basis: “TAC” isn’t something you put into a wall to hold a paper up, it’s a group of intelligent, invested engineers and planners who look at what the Duluth-Superior area needs from a technical perspective. “TIP” isn’t the “pointed or rounded end or extremity of something slender or tapering” (thanks, dictionary.com), but the four-year Transportation Improvement Program, a tool and a process by which federal funds are made available to finance local infrastructure projects.

Here at the MIC, “intern” isn’t the person who makes the coffee and copies. In my first two weeks at the MIC, I spent several hours outside counting parked bikes, taking pictures of infrastructure use, and collecting data on bicyclists and pedestrians. I’ve attended meetings with stakeholders of the Twin Ports, and have come to an understanding of how many different views affect the decisions made here. I’ve been included in many discussions of the efforts towards making Duluth-Superior a community that supports each other, from environmentalists supporting the economy, or motorists supporting bike lanes.

Although I am an outsider to the world of urban planning, in just a short while I have become more invested in the community I’ve been a part of for over 25 years, and more understanding of the efforts to integrate the needs of all transportation users — from the pedestrian on the sidewalk to the overweight/oversized semi-trucks on the roads.

In my remaining months at the MIC, I look forward to enhancing this understanding by assisting the amiable and welcoming staff of the MIC on their various projects, whether it’s field work, office work, or lending my outsider’s view to their planning mindset.

 

Erica H-150pxErica Hansen is finishing up her final semester at the University of Wisconsin – Superior in the Transportation and Logistics Management program. She is intrigued by looking at transportation from a different side than freight movement, and helping to create an efficient and safe transportation network for the Duluth-Superior area. Erica also interns at Lake Superior Warehousing, Co. Inc. and runs student organizations at UWS. When she is not busy with these things, she takes her two-year-old to parks near their home, and rollerblades on the Munger Trail.

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Last Call for Comments on 2019 Transportation Projects

Almost $10 million of federal funding is being programmed for Duluth area transportation projects in 2019, and you have the opportunity to review and comment.

2019ProjectApps-ImageStrip550px

The programmed projects include:

  • Bridge preservation on the Blatnik bridge and the Mesaba Avenue bridge over Superior Street in downtown Duluth;
  • Mill and overlay of Highway 39 in Gary/New Duluth;
  • Resurfacing of Maple Grove Road (from Midway Road to Westberg Road) in Hermantown;
  • Pavement reclamation and storm sewer repairs on E 8th St/E 9th St in Duluth’s East hillside; and
  • Duluth Transit Authority operations (approx. $2 million in FTA funding programmed for continued public transit operations.

Additional project details are described in a post from March 5th, when they were first proposed.  As noted in that post, because federal funding is public money, the public has the right for their comments to be recorded and reported on these projects. 

The MIC will be taking official public comment on all projects included in the 2016-2019 Duluth Area TIP – from July 12 to August 13th

You may leave your comments in the section at the end of this blog post, and you are welcome to stop by the ARDC offices and speak with MIC staff directly during a couple of “Open House” days from 9am to 5pm on Thursday, August 12th and Friday, August 13th.

Look the projects over – do you have anything to say about them?<br></br>

How federal transportation dollars will be spent in Duluth…4 years from now

Although it fluctuates from year to year, about $8 million – on average– of federal transportation assistance comes in to the Duluth area.  Of that amount, approximately $6 million is allocated for MnDOT projects, and $2 million goes to county and city projects.

Each year several new transportation improvement projects are proposed by these jurisdictions, for four years in advance.  This allows the time needed to do the planning and engineering work before they can be implemented.

This year, five projects are being proposed to utilize the $8 million in federal funding estimated to be available in year 2019.  These projects and their estimated costs are listed below.

Because federal funding is public money, the public has the right for their comments to be recorded and reported on these projects.  Look the projects over – do you have anything to say about them?    

E9th225pxE 8th Street/E 9th Street – Pavement Preservation
A mill and overlay of the existing pavement on the 1.6 miles of E 8th Street/E 9th Street between 6th Avenue E and Woodland Avenue.  Repairs to storm water, curb and gutter, and sidewalk will also be part of this project.
Jurisdiction: City of Duluth
Project Cost:  $1,300,000 ($860,000 federal funds; $440,000 local funds)

MapleGrove225pxMaple Grove Road – Pavement Preservation
A mill and overlay of 3.5 miles of Maple Grove Road from Midway Road to Westberg Road.  The project will include intersection improvements at Midway Road and at LaVaque Road.
Jurisdiction: St. Louis County
Project Cost:  $2,000,000 ($1,600,000 federal funds; $400,000 local funds)

McCuen150pxMcCuen Street (State Highway 39) – Pavement Preservation
Resurfacing of 1 mile of highway from State Highway 23 to the Oliver Bridge.
Jurisdiction: MnDOT District 1
Project Cost:  $900,000 ($720,000 federal funds; $180,000 state funds)

 

MesabiBridge150pxMesaba Ave, Bridge # 6544 – Bridge Repainting (Preservation)
Repainting of the understructure of the bridge over Superior Street in Downtown Duluth.
Jurisdiction: MnDOT District 1
Project Cost:  $1,500,000 ($1,200,000 federal funds; $300,000 state funds)  

 

Blatnik150pxBlatnik Bridge – Bridge Repainting (Preservation)
Repainting the superstructure of the I-535 bridge over St. Louis Bay.  This project includes a cost-share with WisDOT.
Jurisdiction: MnDOT District 1
Project Cost:  $8,260,000 ($3,717,000 federal funds; $413,000 MnDOT funds; $4,130,000 WisDOT funds)

 

You may have noticed that what these projects have in common is preservation of existing roads and bridges.  This is a trend that will continue as transportation funding becomes more scarce. In our area (and throughout the state) we will be seeing very little new construction in the coming years.

More information about the Duluth Area TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) and the projects being proposed for 2019 can be found on the MIC’s website at www.dsmic.org.

Meanwhile, if you have any opinions about these proposed projects, we welcome your comments.