St. Cloud police chief adds support for new 17th St. sidewalk

St. Cloud’s highest priority sidewalk project is moving forward and heading to a private engineering firm for design.

Students and residents alike often navigate a thin, grassy shoulder along a busy one-mile stretch of 17th Street near St. Cloud High School as traffic speeds by.

A push for a safer street began in September, when 17-year-old Charity Best launched a petition calling for a sidewalk that received more  than 1,000 signatures.

Even the city’s police chief recently acknowledged the need for a sidewalk from Vermont to Michigan avenues.

“There’s been a long standing level of complaints to my office on a routine basis about 17th Street,” said Chief Pete Gauntlet at a Feb. 28 St. Cloud City Council meeting. “The volume of traffic there from a safety standpoint is an issue.”

On Feb. 28, Public Works Director DiAnna Rawleigh presented cost estimates to the council based on a recent survey of the area.

She noted the project is now the number one priority on the city’s Sidewalk Master Plan list.

Council members favored plans for a five-foot wide sidewalk on one side of the road with an elevated walkway over a ditch.

The cost is estimated between $492,380 and $555,306 for construction, drainage and other aspects of the project.

Mobility fees could help pay for the sidewalk and the city can also apply for Safe Routes to School grants and use Park and Recreation Impact fees to get the job done, Rawleigh said.  

As the city applies for grants, staff can begin the planning and design phase and work with nearby schools to obtain proper easements, Rawleigh suggested.

But Council Member Linette Matheny asked if the sidewalk would be better on 16th Street since many driveways and fences could be disturbed during construction.

She also noted the narrowness of 17th Street.

Other council members such as Dave Askew, as well as Chief Gauntlet, said a sidewalk on 16th Street didn’t make sense.

“If we try to make 16th Street work, the kids won’t do it,” Gauntlet said. “It’s going to be tight, but it’s been needed forever, and it’s finally coming to a head.”

Matheny then suggested farming the engineering and design process out to a private firm to speed things up and free up city employees to do other work.

Rawleigh said after the meeting it isn’t unheard of for smaller cities to send work to an outside consultant, and that doing so can expedite the process.

The council instructed city staff to move forward with a private engineering company.

Ray Best thanked St. the City Council members for remaining diligent with the project.

“I’m glad you guys are moving forward on it,” Best said. “It’s not just for the students and teenagers, but it’s also for all the residents of St. Cloud.”