Photo by Tucker Henderson
The Safe Routes to School project recently got underway in New York Mills. As part of the plan, local volunteers designed a safe route for students to walk to school by utilizing cones and paint to create a walkway on the road.

By Tucker Henderson


Safe walking routes in New York Mills are being evaluated this month as the Safe Routes to School demonstration project kicked off during the beginning of May.

The project is being funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and is based off of a Safe Routes to School document created through the City of NY Mills in cooperation with West Central Initiative to identify areas within the city that can be improved to keep local children safe.

Amy Wallgren played a large role in writing the grant application for the demonstration project in 2021 as she was a member of the school board at the time. The document identified the stretch between Miller Street and Mockingbird Lane, especially the walking lane beneath the overpass, as a region with increasing traffic.

Photo by Tucker Henderson
Local volunteers recently painted stripes on the road near Miller St.

“With the barn on the other side of the highway and the development that’s happened over there with Country View and the Mockingbird Lane area,” said NY Mills City Clerk Julie Roberts. “There’s just a lot more traffic that goes on underneath there, so that became something we focused on.”

Roberts noted that the lane under the underpass is hard to recognize as the paint is heavily worn away and that if someone’s not paying attention, they’d never know it was even there.

After a couple of meetings with the Safe Routes to School representatives, the project was approved. The project is actually about four times as large as most Safe Routes projects, but the application expressed the need for the safety measures and made their case to get the whole thing approved.

“It was supposed to be put in last summer, but they had some staff changing at the state level and it got pushed back,” said Roberts. “We were having trouble getting permits for a 90 day project because we’re dealing with both county and state road easements. So with the new person that came on board at the state, we decided to just go for the 30 day permit because that was a lot easier to get permitting for.”

The project itself was completely paid for by state funding and is intended to collect data during its month-long operation.

“It’s to collect counts of cars, speeds, pedestrians, that’s what some of the equipment down there is doing,” said Roberts. “There’s a survey we’ll be sharing with the school and community. We encourage people to go and fill it out. It’s located on a couple signs along the demonstration project and we’re going to share it on Facebook.

“We accumulate all of that data and that helps us to try to get into a permanent type project and getting us into state funding that can be quite large dollars, but you have to do all of these steps to get into those kind of funds,” Roberts continued. “Our hope is that we will demonstrate the need, have data that supports it so that we can, down the road, get into some state funding.”

Roberts also said that the engineer working on the project speculated that a final cost for a permanent project on that stretch of highway would be in the ballpark of $600,000. If the data supported the need for the crosswalk and sidewalks, the Safe Routes to School and state-funding would cover the entire cost of the project.

“It’s important that we’re able to tap into state funding for it,” said Roberts. “Otherwise, a city of our size isn’t going to be able to afford to do that on our own.”

Roberts said that letters of support came in from Otter Tail County and the State of Minnesota as well as the Highway Department and MnDOT.

“That really helped us with getting that large of a project approved,” said Roberts. “We had some community volunteers help install it. Thank you to all of those who helped out because we couldn’t have done it without them.”

There were community members from the Brunswick Community Outreach group, Farmers & Merchants State Bank, and Magnifi Financial, as well as other local volunteers that helped to finalize the demonstration project. MnDOT was also present to help with safety at the on and off ramps from Highway 10, as well as working on the section near Cenex and Hardware Hank. Two members from Safe Routes to School as well as two from West Central Initiative also joined Roberts and the rest of the volunteers. Roberts said most of the feedback so far has been positive.

“I did have one person express concern about how farmers are supposed to get through there with machinery and things like that,” said Roberts. “Right now, it’s the breakaway poles, but if it was a permanent project, those would just be curb bump outs made of concrete and things would be able to clear it because it would just be a curb. Right now, it’s a bit of a hassle because it’s all done with the flags and it impedes traffic on the right hand turn lane, but that’s how we have to do a temporary demonstration project. If it was permanent, it would be curb bump outs and it would not be in the way of equipment and trailers and things like that.”

The survey for the project is available on the signage along the demonstration project and also on Facebook on the City of New York Mills’ page. Feedback is appreciated as the input of local residents is important for the City to look at before proceeding with any further projects.

“Hopefully people can just be patient and have constructive feedback on ideas,” said Roberts. “The upside is after the 30 days all the breakaway cones will come down and the ramp will come off, but the paint on the road surface, the stickers for the crosswalks, and the lane divider will all stay down for the summer months because they have to wear away.”

Roberts says that this is a positive opportunity for the safety of local walkers, snowmobilers, bicyclists and those who use the edges of the highway to get around.

“We’re trying to get into bigger funding pools to make pedestrian and bicycle traffic safer to go under that underpass,” she said. “It’s for the greater good in the end.”