County considers major changes to Pilot Knob, closing Wells Fargo driveway in Eagan

Bank leaders, City Council members: Recommendation is bad idea, premature

Dakota County officials are considering drastic changes to Pilot Knob Road that has one Eagan bank worried and City Council members disappointed.

In a presentation to the Eagan City Council on Jan. 8, county officials recommended adding a third southbound lane on Pilot Knob Road between Central Parkway and Yankee Doodle Road, adding southbound left turn lanes at Norwest Court and Marice Drive, modifying existing left-turn lanes and closing Wells Fargo’s driveway to Pilot Knob.

County officials also recommended moving the bike trail between Marice Drive and Norwest Court farther away from the road.

Finding a way to transition Pilot Knob from two lanes to three and back to two would be addressed during the design phase, said Chris Chromy, senior transportation project for Bolton and Menk, a engineering consultant for Dakota County.

Construction on Pilot Knob could begin as early as 2014, he said.

The study began in June. Officials planned to finish it in November but the county took additional time to meet with business owners, Chromy said.

County officials examined several options before developing its latest recommendations, he said.

Premature results

City Council members heavily criticized the county’s plan to close the Wells Fargo driveway and called the recommendations as a whole “premature.”

“I’m surprised construction could begin as early as 2014,” Mayor Mike Maguire said.

Maguire criticized county officials for basing their recommendations, in part, on CSM’s development plans, which have since been withdrawn.

CSM Equities, owner of the former Lockheed Martin property in Eagan intended to build a multi-story retail complex on the 47-acre site, but put the plans on hold in December pending the county’s traffic study.

Tom Palmquist, vice president of commercial development for CSM, declined to comment on the issue, saying company representative had not yet discussed the matter as a team.

“We’re pursing a ghost of a development at the expense of existing business,” Maguire said. “I think the study should have been halted until we know what the CSM development will look like.”

Council Member Cyndee Fields agreed saying the recommendations are premature and that she believes the county needs to include the segment of Pilot Knob between Yankee Doodle and I-35E.

Kristi Sebastian, Dakota County engineer, noted that the section of Pilot Knob from Yankee Doodle to I-35E has previously been studied.

“Long term there will be a three-lane southbound lane to 35, which would require a new bridge,” she said.

County officials contend that CSM’s proposal wasn’t the driving force in continuing the traffic study.

“The CSM proposal brought to a head something that needed to be addressed,” Sebastian said.

Pilot Knob currently has safety and congestion issues between Central Parkway and Yankee Doodle Road, they said.

To date, drivers struggle during peak hours to find a gap in the road when turning onto Pilot Knob from side streets.

County officials expect traffic volumes will continue to grow.

Traffic currently becomes congested on Norwest Court and Pilot Knob Road. There have been 33 crashes at that intersection in the past five years, several of which were right angle crashes, Chromy said. The Norwest Court crash rate is higher than the metro average for a similar intersection, he said.

The intersection of Yankee Doodle and Pilot Knob roads also exceeds capacity, Chromy said. The county is limited in its ability to make improvements to that intersection due to its proximity to I-35E, he said.

Businesses upset 

City Council members weren’t the only ones frustrated with the county’s recommendations. Several business representatives, including those from Wells Fargo, voiced their dissent at Tuesday’s special council meeting.

Ellen McInnis, director of the Twin Cities local government relations for Wells Fargo, said that removing the driveway at Pilot Knob will hurt customer service and profits.

McInnis noted that the Wells Fargo branch on Pilot Knob has significantly invested in Eagan by providing tax revenue and hundreds of jobs. The branch plans to add more jobs in the near future, she said.

The Eagan branch is the most active by volume in Minnesota and has been profitable for 30 years, McInnis said.

“This improvement may be unnecessary,” she said. “Because there have been no major accidents at the driveway.”

Chromy contended that redirecting drivers to Norwest Court would improve safety by giving drivers more time to stop before their turn.

It would also force people to drive farther before making a U-turn, he said.

Engineer Vern Swing disputes that position.

Swing, who is president of RLK, an engineer firm hired by Wells Fargo and Extended Stay, said he believes removing the driveway won’t significantly improve safety.

Using similar configurations in Brooklyn Park, West St. Paul and Eagan as examples, Swing contends the roadway, though not ideal, conforms with existing configurations.

Swing added that engineers don’t need to do much planning for drivers to stop before their turn, because people typically slow down and continue through the turn — not stop.

Maguire and several council members sided with the concerned business leaders.

“People who drive there expect a little congestion to Wells Fargo,” he said. “That’s why, in part, we built the ring road.”

Maguire noted that regardless of the driveway, drivers who want to go south would need to make a U-turn or go around the ring road.

Chromy agreed that the county’s recommendation to close the driveway is not ideal but insisted it is the best option available.

Maguire suggested the county should consider mitigating safety issues by converting the driveway to a right in, and right out path.

Though they felt the county’s plans were premature, council members said they could support the rest of the recommendations for Pilot Knob Road.