It's final: A Walmart store is coming to the Gateway District. However, any change to nearby intersections is still up in the air, though city staff predicts a significant increase in traffic on roads surrounding the development.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will be building its Burnsville location on a tract of wooded land near the corner Cliff Road and River Ridge Boulevard. In the past, the property visible from Interstate 35 West was used for a cement transfer operation, but it has been vacant for several years, said Planner Chris Slania.
The 24-hour store will cover 155,000 square feet and include a grocery, clothing, home goods, pharmacy, tire center and outdoor gardening section. In the future, it is possible that the lot will include a fast-food drive-thru as well. It is estimated that the store will create 300 jobs, mostly part-time positions.
Once completed, the store will also draw a high-volume of traffic into what has been a relatively sleepy corner of Burnsville. It is anticipated that a total of 7,800 vehicles will go in and out of the lot each day, said Mike Spack, president for Traffic Data Inc. the firm that studied how the development will affect traffic patterns.
"We feel that more than 50 percent will be going through Cliff and River Ridge Intersection," Spack told the Planning Commission during their meeting last week.
However, as of now the city does not plan to install a traffic signal to accommodate the incoming cars and trucks, though officials acknowledged that the store would have a "significant" impact on the roads around the development.
The holdup is Dakota County, city officials told members of the Planning Commission. Technically, the road falls under the county's jurisdiction, so the city does not have authority to alter it without permission.
"We had numerous meetings with them to determine what their interest would be. They stated that they would not be agreeable to a traffic signal at that intersection until they saw the conditions once the store is open," said Jeremy Strehlo, a project engineer with the city. "Their reason for that is sometimes these stores do go in and the intersection still operates on an acceptable basis. They wanted to make sure that if they agree to put something in that it is necessary."
Instead, the city asked Wal-Mart to pay up to $7,500 for a traffic study to be conducted one year after the store's grand opening. The money will be put into an escrow account as soon as the city issues a building permit for the site. Any unused funds will be returned to Wal-Mart. If the study costs more than$7,500, Wal-Mart will not be on the hook for any addissional expenses.
However, if the city and county find that the intersection of Cliff Road and River Ridge needs a traffic signal, Wal-Mart will be asked to contribute up to $300,000 to install a light.
Though commissioners were generally supportive of the project, many voiced concerns about uncontrolled growth in traffic around the store.
"From a practical point of view that's not been an easy intersection. I've driven it millions of times when I've lived in Burnsville and it's hard to get out there and it's hard to turn, especially during high volume traffic times," said Commissioner DeeDee Currier. "I certainly hope our county commissioners may be listening so that they realize the importance of that intersection."
Commissioner Steve Manhart agreed, though he felt the project was a good one.
"I do feel that this is somewhat of a no-brainer, that we're going to see traffic conditions at Cliff and River Ridge and others rise," said Commissioner Steve Manhart. "But I understand you have to comply with their rules. With levels of service being shown in the traffic study in other locations of the city it could have been a lot worse, but in this location I think it's a good fit."
In spite of these objections, the commission passed Wal-Mart's plat unanimously. The city council followed suit this Tuesday with little further discussion.