Navigating Change: The Highway 169 Project - Some Business Perspectives

Navigating Change: The Highway 169 Project - Some Business Perspectives Main Photo

1 Apr 2024

The transformation of Highway 169 into a freeway is set to bring significant changes to Elk River. In collaboration with the City of Elk River and Sherburne County, this ambitious project, known as 169 Redefine, aims to improve traffic flow, enhance safety, and stimulate economic growth in the region. Read more about this here.

Project Overview

Scheduled to span three construction seasons from April 2022 to November 2024, the project encompasses the three-mile stretch between Hwy 101/Hwy 10 and 197th Ave. in Elk River. The comprehensive plan includes the construction of bridges, freeway lanes, adjacent roads, sidewalks, city utilities, and underground infrastructure.

Elk River Driver Alert: Road Closures and Lane Reductions Coming Early April

Elk River drivers can expect traffic disruptions in early April. The traffic signal at Highway 169 and Main Street will be deactivated and removed, with Highway 169 being reduced to a single lane in each direction, 24/7, between Highway 10 and School Street. During construction, northbound traffic will be shifted to the southbound lanes. Additionally, there will be closures on Main Street, with the west side closed to Carson Avenue and the east side closed to Zane Street. Expect delays and plan accordingly.

Some Business Perspectives: Amore Ice Cream and Maurices

One business that could be directly impacted by the temporary closure of the Main Street junction is Amore Ice Cream Shoppe. Helen Feick, the owner of this beloved ice cream shop, shared her thoughts on the impending changes: 

"We are still determining the impact the construction will have on us. Once completed, it will be positive for Amore Ice Cream Shoppe. All we can do is brace ourselves and wait out the storm. We will open our posted hours throughout the construction, ensuring our amazing customers can access their favorite ice cream!"

Amore Ice Cream Shoppe's optimistic outlook amidst uncertainty reflects the resilience of local businesses in the face of construction challenges. The Elk River community can look forward to a transformed Highway 169 that not only addresses traffic concerns but also contributes to the vibrancy and growth of the city.

Joanna Arbic, Store Leader/District Trainer at Maurices in Elk River, a women's clothing chain for current fashions in various sizes, footwear & accessories, provides valuable insights into the impact of the Highway 169 project on local businesses. Acknowledging the challenges faced during the recent construction phase, Joanna emphasizes the significant effect on large and small businesses. At Maurices, the closure of surrounding stoplights and exits made the store less accessible, redirecting customer traffic away from the storefront. The altered routes decreased customer visits, affecting the daily lunch-hour foot traffic and overall store results. During construction, the store experienced a 1/3 reduction in footsteps compared to the previous year, falling below expectations. Despite the hardships, Joanna expresses gratitude for the support from the Elk River Chamber, the City of Elk River, and collaborative efforts among local businesses. While navigating the current challenges, she remains optimistic about the community's understanding of the long-term benefits of the highway project and the collective efforts to rejuvenate local businesses. In the face of adversity, Joanna emphasizes the resilience of Maurices, highlighting the 93-year-old brand's ability to thrive even during difficult times.

Northbound Liquor Adapts and Emerges Stronger

The Highway 169 Redefine project, while aiming to improve traffic flow in the long run, has presented temporary challenges for local businesses. "At the city council's direction, we budgeted for a loss of 30% for 2023," says John Colotti, manager of Northbound Liquor, a store directly impacted by the construction. While initial months in 2023 showed promise, construction in April led to a 23% drop in sales compared to 2022.

Northbound Liquor, however, has been proactive in mitigating these disruptions. “We increased our online presence with more videos and other features highlighting the store; to encourage customer appreciation, we had some promotional giveaways to reward loyal customers. Interestingly, a temporary roundabout near the store allowed traffic heading north on 169 easier access to the eastern side, leading to an unexpected boost in sales. Customers reported that it was not difficult to navigate," says Colotti, suggesting the project's potential benefits once completed.

Looking ahead, Colotti is optimistic. "The final phase begins soon, focusing on the Main Street intersection, which is just south of our location," he acknowledges. However, he believes "Northbound Liquor will benefit from the new infrastructure enhancements that 169 Redefine will produce!" The store's experience adapting to construction offers valuable lessons for other businesses along Highway 169 - a proactive approach, embracing online engagement, and capitalizing on unexpected opportunities can help navigate the challenges and emerge stronger on the other side.

Forward Momentum: Navigating Elk River's Path to Progress with the Highway 169 Redefine

Notably, local businesses recognize that while 169 Redefine may bring temporary inconveniences, the long-term benefits for Elk River are promising. The improvements in traffic flow, safety, and economic opportunities position Elk River for a brighter future, making the journey through construction worthwhile for the community and businesses. However, with the final stoplight (Main Street) being removed at the beginning of the construction season, traffic should stay on track due to no more red lights. All other interchanges are open, allowing motorists to exit, enter, and cross Highway 169 more quickly and safely than ever.