Construction likely to begin this summer on apartment complex along Lakeland Drive Northeast in Willmar


— A completed traffic study for Lakeland Drive Northeast shows that the roadway is capable of handling the predicted increased traffic volumes that a proposed 216-unit apartment complex will create and no roadway changes are needed, which means the Unique Opportunities development is set to move forward with construction this summer.

"Unique Opportunities LLC is excited to start the first phase of our new project off of Lakeland during the summer of 2023," said developer Samuel Herzog when contacted Tuesday by the West Central Tribune. "We are excited for the future of Willmar and appreciate the opportunity to play a role in the process."

The next step, according to Aaron Backman, executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, will be to complete soil borings to make sure the soil is adequate.

"They have the financing lined up. Once they get the soil borings report back, I imagine they will start moving," Backman told the Willmar City Council at its meeting Monday when the traffic study was presented.

City engineer Jared Voge of Bolton & Menk told the council that the developer still has to submit revised plans based on the comments received by city staff regarding the development.

One of the comments limits the complex to 200 units if there is only one entrance from the roadway into the complex, and the developer is aware of that, according to Backman.

If Herzog incorporates two entrances from the roadway into the complex, he can move forward with a 216-unit complex.

Voge explained to the council on Monday that a traffic study collects data regarding existing traffic volumes and uses that to determine how traffic will be affected by a development that will increase traffic.

"As we moved forward with this project, it was important to make sure the traffic would not cause undue congestion or safety concerns with the addition of our proposed units," Herzog told the West Central Tribune on Tuesday. "We were happy to see the final results indicating no significant issues are anticipated with the construction of the proposed buildings."

The traffic study along Lakeland Drive Northeast was conducted by SRF Consulting Group the week of Oct. 3, 2022, and collected data regarding traffic and pedestrian volumes; roadway geometry, which is the width, size and capacity of the road; and capacity evaluations for eight intersections.

"Ultimately, what the study determined in terms of the existing roadway, is that the traffic as it exists today is approximately 33 to 39% below the capacity of the roadway," Voge said Monday.

According to the speed data collected, the average speed along the roadway is 39 mph and the 85th percentile is 43 mph, according to the traffic study.

"That is a good indication that speeding is not a problem along that corridor," Voge said.

In a 10-year crash study, only one crash was identified, which was a rear-end crash due to a car with no brake lights.

"I'm confident that it is not a roadway geometry issue," Voge said.

He reminded the council that many of the people who spoke at the public hearings against the complex were concerned about sight and stopping distance due to a hill to the south of the proposed entrance to the complex.

The sight distance required for a 45-mph speed limit is 445 feet, and the sight distance for the proposed entrance is adequate at 551 feet, according to the traffic study.

The traffic study also evaluated gap analysis for the hill, which is how long it takes, based on line of sight, for a vehicle that is spotted that far away to get to the entrance where the development is proposed.

"In a 45-mph speedway, 7.5 seconds is required. That location provides 12," Voge said.

The eight intersections that were analyzed for level of service include Civic Center Drive and Business Highway 71, Civic Center Drive and Lakeland Drive Northeast, Lakeland Drive and 14th Avenue Northeast, Lakeland Drive and the driveway to the mobile home park, Lakeland Drive and 11th Avenue Northeast, Lakeland Drive and Upper Trentwood Circle, Lakeland Drive and Lower Trentwood Circle, and Lakeland Drive and High Avenue.

Intersection level of service is scored A through F, with A being good and F being bad. All the intersections analyzed, except Business Highway 71 and Civic Center Drive, are operating at a level of service A, according to the traffic study.

Highway 71 and Civic Center Drive is currently at a level of service B, "which is still a very high level of service in terms of operations," Voge said.

After collecting all the data regarding current traffic flow, the study then went into traffic projections after the complex is completed.

It was determined that average traffic volumes would be "less than half the capacity of the two-lane roadway," Voge said, noting that all intersections also would continue to operate at the level of service they did prior to development.

"In summary, after the results of the traffic study, there's no sight distance or gap concerns; the intersections' performance will not be impacted by the development in terms of level of service; and the additional traffic generated results in the corridor still being below 50% of the design capacity," Voge said. "No roadway changes are needed to accommodate the development and, based on traffic volumes and safety considerations, turn lanes are not required."

Councilor Tom Butterfield asked if the bike lane on Lakeland Drive was taken into consideration in the traffic study.

Voge said it was, and it is recommended that enhanced signage be placed at the exit to the development alerting motorists that there is a bike lane on the roadway.