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Minnesota TH 61: North Shore Scenic Drive

Project Abstract

Minnesota TH 61 is as much a scenic highway and tourist destination as it is a vital interregional and international trade corridor for northeastern Minnesota along Lake Superior. When TH 61 required pavement replacement, MNDOT faced the challenge of balancing highway improvement with the needs of the community, the environment, and stakeholders. This case study illustrates MNDOT's success in improving safety while incurring community acceptance, achieving environmental compatibility, maintaining engineering and functional credibility and ensuring financial feasibility.



Setting

Minnesota's Trunk Highway 61 (TH 61), North Shore Scenic Drive, runs northeasterly along the rocky and heavily forested edge of Lake Superior, for more than 150 miles, from the regional trade center of Duluth to Canada. TH 61 is both a scenic highway and tourist destination, as well as a vital interregional and international trade corridor for northeastern Minnesota. As such, it passes through 19 small communities, large tracts of state and national forest resources and recreation areas, eight state parks, numerous rivers, streams, historic sites, markers and points of interest, many safety rest areas, wayside parks and campgrounds, an Indian reservation, and a national monument.

Visitors who travel along the North Shore Scenic Drive hope to experience the magnificent landscapes, the cascading rivers, the rugged shorelines, and the breathtaking vistas along with the other natural and cultural resources and history that abound along this Lake Superior region. The characteristics that draw visitors to this region are so unique that Minnesota's TH 61 North Shore Scenic Drive was recently designated and distinguished as an "All-American Road" in the National Scenic Byways Program.

Problem to be Solved

TH 61 required reconstruction to replace the pavement. The basic cross section of two lanes each direction of travel was sufficient, but an effort was made to upgrade the facility to modern design criteria.

The challenge in doing so was to develop an alignment that met the needs of both visitors to the area as well as local residents and business owners. Aside from being a tourist and recreational driving destination, within an environmentally challenging area, the North Shore Scenic Drive must provide adequate safety, mobility, and access for local residents, businesses, recreation areas, and commercial trucking while accommodating bicyclists, pedestrians, and rail crossings. Balancing transportation, community, environmental, and stakeholder needs along this corridor was a tremendous challenge.

Stakeholders

The overall project required coordination with 19 communities, state and national forests, eight state parks, and an Indian reservation. For this segment of TH 61 North Shore Scenic Drive, coordination with local residents and business owners, the community of Good Harbor Bay, and a state park was necessary.

CSD/CSS Approach

Minnesota's approach to the project focused on stakeholder involvement to fully understand all issues, flexibility in application of geometric design criteria, a commitment to avoid rather than mitigate adverse impacts, and to look for opportunities to enhance the project given its unique characteristics.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation's (Mn/DOT's) reconstruction and realignment of TH 61 along Lake Superior's Good Harbor Bay illustrates a context sensitive design approach that balanced transportation, community, and environmental needs without requiring exceptions to geometric design standards. This project also illustrates context sensitive design that did not arise out of contentious public involvement and controversy but rather out of proactive project management and involvement of stakeholders.


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