Bryant Ficek is one of the project managers for the Highway 61/Vermillion Street Corridor redevelopment plan. Ficek gave two presentations at an open house last week to inform residents of the project and to collect information on what residents would like to see when the project potentially begins in 2026. Photo by Bruce Karnick
Highway 61 project planning begins


By Bruce Karnick

[email protected]

The Minnesota Department of Transportation and the City of Hastings held a public meeting last week to gather information from citizens about the proposed redesign of the Hwy. 61 corridor from 4th Street to 36th Street in Hastings.

The project is still in its infancy, as the project leaders have just started the information- gathering stage. One of the project managers is Bryant Ficek, the manager who was involved in the reconstruction of Hwy. 316. At the event, Ficek explained the purpose of the open house.

The goal of this pre-scoping assessment is to evaluate Hwy 61 through Hastings for all modes and all users including operations, safety, and stakeholder needs. Once the issues and concerns are understood, several potential alternatives will be evaluated to help create a new vision for Hwy 61 in Hastings. The study will build on previous studies in this area by MnDOT and the City of Hastings. The purpose of this study is to provide the state with alternatives associated with improving the safety and mobility of Hwy 61. These services are necessary to understand the current issues, determine potential solutions to address those needs, and evaluate those solutions.

MNDOT has money allocated to the project to start work in 2026, and while that seems like a long way away, with projects like this, it will arrive quickly. The project is divided into four sections. Downtown, Midtown, Vermillion River area and South. The project included a traf昀c study at key intersections along Hwy. At 4th Street, 31,000 vehicles go through that intersection per day. Hwy .316 sees roughly 18,000 vehicles and Hwy. 55 around 14,000.

In a 昀ve-year period, from 2017-2021, there were just over 370 accidents on 61. The intersections for the major streets is where the majority of the accidents occurred. The study is working toward Hwy. 61.

Hwy. 316 lowering those accident numbers. The information gathering portion should last until the end of 2022, nearly a year.

The project is going to work hand in hand with the 2040 comprehensive plan and the People Movement Plan that the City of Hastings already has in place. The People Movement Plan has additional safety concepts for pedestrian and bike traf昀c.

Things the study is trying to assess are what are the needs of the corridor, what are the current issues and what are residents and users looking for in rebuilding the corridor. One thing that caught visitors by surprise was the amount of space that is currently available.

The entire corridor is between 98 and 100 feet wide including the sidewalks. The initial thought of the engineers is to have sidewalks all along the corridor with a grass buffer between the sidewalk and the traf昀c lanes. The traf昀c lanes will be 12 feet wide per lane which is 48 feet of the 100 available. A center median will occupy two or so feet with a 12-foot turn lane as needed, meaning the driving surface would be roughly 62 of the 100 feet available.

Many of the residents expressed concern over the extremely unsafe parking along Hwy. 61. The study is still young, but the consultant did mention that removing those parking spaces is an option.

Tim Thoreen, one of the consultants on the project added, “We’ve got some of the concepts we’re thinking of just to get your opinion, ‘If we do this, here’s the trade off, what do you think about that? Is that acceptable? Is that good or bad?’ Again, we want that public engagement. And then 昀nally, once we get to the end, we’ll present the results as to ‘Here it is, this is what we’ve come up with.’” Once the 15-minute presentation was complete, visitors had the opportunity to go upstairs at city hall and see a large-scale map of the corridor.

They could speak with members from the DOT and the consulting 昀rm to give feedback and ideas of what has worked well on Hwy. 61 and areas that need improvement. When 31,000 vehicles come through town each day, there are a lot of opportunities for both good and bad things to happen. The consulting 昀rm used sticky notes to document visitors’ concerns and ideas right on the map.

Part of the visit was also used to invite people to participate in the surveys needed to gather the most information possible. This is a key piece to the planning stage, and it is vital that the community sound off now to avoid problems like the Hwy. 316 project. The survey can be completed online and folks can comment on the map online as well. This gives the public a lot of options to submit feedback now in the planning stage.

To learn more and to complete the survey or participate on the comment map, visit projects/hwy61hastings/

The upstairs presentation room 昀lled up quickly with people looking to help offer ideas on what to do with Highway 61 for the redevelopment plan. Photo by Bruce Karnick

May 25, 2022