The northern Minnesota community of Baxter has for decades been experiencing a surge of traffic congestion. The problem is exacerbated during the busy summer travel season. As the gateway to the popular Brainerd Lakes Area, tourists and cabin-dwellers flock to the area to experience the plentiful lakes and natural ecology. As a result, the main local highways become clogged up during the summer, prompting locals to seek alternative routes.
Cypress Drive is a north/south roadway that was bisected by the heavily traveled State Highway 210 as well as a set of active mainline railroad tracks. Drivers and pedestrians on either end of the corridor could not efficiently access the other half. The northern half of Cypress Drive served as an alternative route to access shopping, retail and other community amenities, while the southern part served industrial areas and neighborhoods.
To access the businesses and amenities to the north, residents south of Highway 210 would have to travel several blocks out of the way to the east and cross over the busy highway. The other option to travel from south to north was to use the equally congested Highway 371 to the west. To give residents living and working on the southern half of Cypress Drive better access to the north side, it would be necessary for Cypress Drive to extend through the busy highway and across the railroad tracks.
To improve traffic congestion and mobility in the area, the City opted to continue Cypress Drive through the busy Highway 210 corridor and across the railroad tracks. The existing portions of Cypress Drive were also converted from two-lane roadways to four-lane urban roadways.
The project required extensive collaboration between SEH, BNSF Railway and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). The project featured a new railroad-highway at grade crossing and unique queue cutter traffic signal. A queue cutter traffic signal is intended to prevent vehicles stopped at adjacent traffic signals from backing up onto the roadway/railroad crossings. The signal is typically activated by an approaching train and coordinates with adjacent traffic control signals, getting vehicles out of the train’s path.
To further smooth traffic flow along the corridor, two multilane roundabouts were also constructed along Cypress Drive. One was added directly to the north of the Highway 210 crossing at Excelsior Road, and another roundabout was added along the southern part of the corridor at College Road. For multimodal users, the project team added on-road bike lanes along Cypress Drive as well as separated trails with multiple connections to the Paul Bunyan State Trail, a popular multi-use recreational trail.
To mitigate potential environmental concerns in the railroad corridor, an extensive environmental site assessment process and multiple agency coordination effort were also part of the highway connector project.
The project also included rerouting of storm and sewer utilities along the corridor.
In the end, the project improved access and mobility for businesses, residents and visitors in the Brainerd/Baxter area while not impeding on the crucial seasonal traffic.
Cypress Drive Improvements
City of Baxter