Duluth City Council pulls plan to expand Joshua AvenueThe Duluth City Council put the kibosh on a proposal Monday night to draw up detailed plans for the long-debated extension of Joshua Avenue.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
The Duluth City Council put the kibosh on a proposal Monday night to draw up detailed plans for the long-debated extension of Joshua Avenue.
By an 8-1 vote, councilors chose not to authorize the development of detailed drawings for the project and turned away $216,000 in federal money rather than push forward with the controversial road.
These federal funds would have covered the cost of designing the road but now will need to be returned, according to Matt Decur, a project engineer for the city of Duluth.
Decur said any design document likely would have a maximum shelf life of three years. If it took any longer than three years to move forward with the project, he said the city would probably be asked to revisit the design, adding to the road’s overall cost.
Extending Joshua Avenue to connect Arrowhead Road with the Miller Trunk Corridor as proposed could cost anywhere from $5 million to $7 million.
City Council President Dan Hartman said the odds of winning federal funding for the project were greatly diminished two years ago when U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Chisholm, then the sitting chairman of the House Transportation Committee, lost his bid for re-election to Republican Chip Cravaack of North Branch.
If the city is left to its own devices, the cost of the project would be too much at present, according to Hartman.
“I do think this project is needed, but if we don’t have the money, we don’t have the money,” he said.
Councilor Garry Krause, who represents Duluth Heights, unsuccessfully urged his colleagues to authorize further engineering work for Joshua Avenue, pointing out that unless the city takes action on this connector route, people will continue to use streets that weren’t designed for heavy traffic to cut through residential neighborhoods en route to the mall.
He said a number of these residential roads are in sorry condition as a result and mentioned several streets, including Olive, Ideal, East Morgan, Ecklund Avenue and Stanford Avenue.
“The mudboils are unbelievable,” Krause said. “It’s embarrassing we have some streets like these in Duluth that people need to live on.”
Sandy Purcell, who lives on Arlington Avenue, said the extension is needed to put an end to cut-through traffic. She described how her street has become “a speedway.”
In an e-mail to city councilors, Purcell said: “It is dangerous. No one follows the speed limit. I cannot cross the street during certain periods of the day to pick up my mail due to the traffic and disregard of driving regulations.”
With no clear source of funding, however, Councilor Jennifer Julsrud explained why she would not support moving forward with design work for the project.
“For me, it really boils down to priorities and where we should spend our limited transportation dollars,” she said.
Considering all the other roads that need attention, as well as the failing infrastructure that underlies them, Julsrud said: “When I look at Joshua Avenue and all the other priorities we have, it doesn’t rise to the top.”
Hartman said he believes the extensive work that has gone into developing a preferred route for the road will still provide useful guidance to steer the project when the funding outlook for it brightens.
“I don’t think those efforts were a waste of time,” he said, adding that he does believe the road extension will happen in time.
Matt Oman, who lives on Foster Avenue, just a few homes away from Joshua Avenue, would like to see the project scuttled for good. He’s worried that if the project becomes reality, it could alter the character of his neighborhood forever.
“It’s a very quiet place, and to have Joshua turned into a major thoroughfare would leave a permanent scar,” he said.
Oman said he also fears the sacrifice of forest land the project would require. He said he regularly walks wooded public property that would be bisected if Joshua Avenue is extended. Oman said the area currently supports a rich array of wildlife, including bear, deer, turtles, woodpeckers, rabbits, muskrats, grouse, ducks and many other types of animals.