By Kristen Miller
Since the new Highway 12 bypass opened Dec. 11, redirecting traffic around Long Lake and Orono, there has been some mixed feelings among commuters, as well as some unhappy business owners.
From a commuter’s eye
John Ogle, owner and driver of Express West in Cokato, specializes in half-day deliveries to and from the Twin Cities area.
Each day, Ogle travels Highway 12, and now uses the new bypass.
Driving the bypass saves Ogle between 15 to 20 minutes both ways.
“It’s wonderful,” Ogle said.
“It’s a very strange road and hard to get used to, but once you do, it’s very nice,” he said.
The only thing Ogle wishes about the bypass is that there were more of it.
Ogle said he would’ve liked the bypass to have extended past Maple Plain, if not farther.
Once drivers are off the bypass, they are right back into the stoplights, Ogle said.
“They put a Band-Aid on a bleeding wound,” he added.
Dassel resident Brian Jensen commutes to St. Louis Park and uses the Highway 12 bypass as well.
His experience with the bypass is that it does cut five to 10 minutes out of his drive time, but that it’s also somewhat of a “goofy road,” Jensen said.
“It’s not your typical two-lane highway. I’m still trying to get used to it,” he said.
Jensen explained that by going westbound at mile marker 150, there is a concrete barrier that could potentially be hazardous.
Though there are reflectors, he said, it’s still hard to see and to know which side of the barrier one should drive on.
Another hazard Jensen said, is that there are some “very” icy spots where the road frosts over.
On the other side, Delano residents Lisa Seguin and her husband, Mark, drive that road together every day. They both work at Target Corporation.
“We love it,” she said.
“Going through Long Lake was really burdensome, especially during rush hour,” Seguin said, adding she and her husband will still stop in the town from time-to-time.
A city’s perspective
Terrance Post, Long Lake interim city administrator, said the new bypass does just that to the Long Lake business district.
Post has seen it cause concern among Long Lake business owners, especially now with a slow economy and it being the end of the holiday season.
“It’s the perfect storm,” Post said.
To access Wayzata Boulevard (old Highway 12) or downtown Long Lake, eastbound traffic needs to take the ramp up to the Hennepin County Road 6 bridge, turn left, go over the bridge, and turn right onto Wayzata Boulevard.
Westbound traffic going to the Long Lake business district should take the Wayzata Boulevard exit on the right side of the road, just past the Hennepin County Road 15 bridge.
Signage has also seemed to become a matter of concern, but the city assures it’s been working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to get it resolved.
The main street in Long Lake has been known as Highway 12, though the actual name is Wayzata Boulevard.
“Wayzata Boulevard is confusing,” Post said, which is what is on the signs for the exits to Long Lake and Orono.
Until the county takes over the old Highway 12, there are technically two “Highway 12” roads, with the other being the new bypass.
The old Highway 12, which was and still is maintained as a state highway, will be turned over to Hennepin County as Hennepin County Road 112 in the summer of 2009.
What’s in a name?
“The name adds another degree of confusion,” Post said.
Before the bypass, Long Lake’s main street has been known as Highway 12, though it’s also Wayzata Boulevard.
This is confusing to drivers unfamiliar with the area, Post said.
According to Kent Barnard from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the signs follow the Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and with any new road, “there is bound to be some confusion.”
Barnard did admit that a construction sign did get left up saying Wayzata Boulevard was closed, because Wayzata Boulevard East was closed, not west.
“Not all the permanent signs are up,” Barnard said, adding that the Highway 12 project is still ongoing.
Barnard, along with other MnDOT representatives, met with members of the City of Long Lake as well as business owners Jan. 16.
There, the city and business owners were able to voice their concerns regarding signage.
“The businesses made valid points. In no way did we take light of their concerns,” Barnard said.
Another added confusion for some people, is that MapQuest hasn’t updated its data despite direction to do so from MnDOT, according to Barnard.
MnDOT is looking into changes in the signage, and will implement them as soon as possible, Barnard said.
A hit on local business
Business owners are upset at the loss of business they’ve had since the new bypass opened.
April Wysocki, owner of The Country Cake Cupboard in Long Lake, said she lost 60 percent of business before Christmas because of the lack of signage on the new by-pass.
In just the two weeks before Christmas, Wysocki and her employees spent more than 86 hours on the phone directing customers from out-of-town to her bakery.
She finally went out to see what her customers were dealing with.
Coming from the east, signs told drivers to take the next right into Long Lake/Orono on Wayzata Boulevard, though another sign told drivers the boulevard was closed.
This sign has recently been removed as stated earlier.
At that time, coming from the west, the signs read “Wayzata Boulevard right hand lane.” When drivers came to the stop light the only sign was “County Road 6” with an arrow pointing left, according to Wysocki.
Since then, MnDOT has placed Wayzata Boulevard signs directing traffic.
The problem, Wysocki said, is there isn’t enough signage, and people are unfamiliar with what Wayzata Boulevard is, which is actually old Highway 12.
Long Lake Chamber President and business owner Roxie Albers isn’t sure who to point the finger at, but says the chamber wasn’t involved in the signage planning.
Long Lake Mayor Randy Gilbert said the city has been working for months with MnDOT to get this resolved, he said.
“The [chamber] hasn’t given us enough credit,” he said.
Gilbert warned MnDOT three months ago about the signage, but MnDOT told him it would be taken care of, he said.
“It was a failure to action on many parts . . . Each party had a bit of responsibility,” Gilbert said.
In the planning of the signage, Gilbert told MnDOT a sign needed to say “Long Lake/Orono,” and another sign directing to the high school (which hasn’t been put up yet).
Aside from the wording of the signs, Gilbert said another factor is there are too many signs too far out from the actual turnoffs.
“I feel terrible for [the business owners],” he said. “Let’s all work together to get this done.”
Gilbert also says he hopes other communities learn from this, he said, comparing Wayzata Boulevard to Babcock Boulevard in Delano.
Building a task force
Business owners are learning from their experience, and are taking the situation into their own hands.
At a recent Long Lake Chamber meeting, Delano Star West’s John Tackaberry spoke about the recent road construction Delano businesses faced with the closing of the Highway 12 bridge and how a task force was formed.
Tackaberry invited the members to attend the Delano Area Chamber of Commerce Highway 12 Task Force Tuesday in Delano.
Wysocki and Albers attended the meeting, and were shocked at how active this task force is, and how well the businesses and the city communicates and works together.
“They don’t want to die, the way we are,” Wysocki said.
“Our livelihood right now is at stake . . . we are going to stay right on the tail of this thing,” she said.
To do that, Long Lake business owners are following Delano’s example and forming their own task force.
Business owners would like the signs to read “Long Lake/Orono Business District,” Albers said.
“We are a new town now and the bypass is sucking the life out of us. We have to do something about it,” Wysocki said.
Another aspect of the task force is to promote Long Lake as more of a destination.
Albers hasn’t felt the affect too much because she says her jewelry store is a destination business.
“We’re hanging in there,” she said.
What Albers does like about the bypass is that it makes the town more like a village without the heavy trucks and traffic.
Without the traffic and congestion, Albers said, it’s easier for people to get around town and in and out of the businesses.
“In the long run,” Albers says of the new bypass, “it will be better.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the benefits of the new roadway include:
• Long Lake will reclaim its downtown by directing through traffic, especially large trucks, to the new highway.
• Through traffic will no longer stop at several at-grade intersections located in Long Lake and Orono.
• The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks in the area were relocated, and at-grade crossing of the railroad was removed.
• New interchanges at Hennepin County Road 6 and at Wayzata Boulevard.