Brainerd Dispatch

By Theresa Bourke

BRAINERD — Sitting in the CTC Room at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce Friday, Jan. 12, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar gazed out the window at Highway 210.

The location was apt for discussing the federal government’s $25 million investment in the highway’s reconstruction in coming years.

“We are really excited about this game changer,” Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Friday. “The community — businesses, workers, government — really have thought through this, and that’s one of the reasons they got one of the biggest grants in the state.”

The funding came from the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Multimodal Project Discretionary Grant program. Jessie Dehn, Brainerd city engineer/public works director, said the $25 million will help cover most of the city’s cost, which he estimated at over $7 million.

“Which is huge for us,” he said. “Not only just from being able to construct a project of this importance, but it allows us to do other projects of really great importance for our community elsewhere. It doesn’t tie up our finances just in this project.”

The Minnesota Department of Transportation will cover a portion of the cost as well. The total project is estimated, Dehn said, around $30-40 million.

Highway 210 through Brainerd has the highest traffic counts in Crow Wing County and, as Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux put it, literally divides the city in half.

“Part of this project from the very beginning has been trying to make sure that we are putting the pieces to this that are not just traffic counts,” Badeaux said, “but are, ‘How do we make it so that people can get from one side to the other side of the road?’”

Access to businesses along the corridor is also an essential piece, Badeaux and Dehn noted.

The reconstruction project is slated for 2026-27 and will see updates to the road from Baxter Drive in Baxter to Pine Shores Road in northeast Brainerd.

The western and eastern ends of the project area — from Baxter Drive to Northwest Fourth Street and 10th Avenue Northeast to Pine Shores Road — is mill and overlay, essentially removing and replacing the top layer of pavement.

The center portion of the road between Northwest Fourth Street and 10th Avenue Northeast will undergo reconstruction, with new pavement, medians, sidewalks and city utilities. A barrier between the sidewalk and road on the bridge will help to increase safety, as will the widening of some sidewalk segments throughout the corridor.

Most notably in this section, the signal light at the intersection with Fourth Avenue Northeast will be removed, and two roundabouts will be constructed where Highway 210 intersects with Highway 25 and with Eighth Avenue Northeast, also known as Mill Avenue. The roundabout at Highway 25 would have four legs, while the one at Eighth Avenue would have three legs, with no access to the south as it replaces a T-intersection.

Police Chief John Davis spoke of the inconsistent speeds along the stretch of highway leading to a multitude of rear-end crashes, especially in northeast Brainerd. The roundabouts, he said, will help to keep traffic flowing at a more consistent pace.

Klobuchar praised the planned safety measures and efforts to make the corridor even more aesthetically pleasing for visitors and residents.

Child care at the YMCA

After hearing about the Highway 210 project, Klobuchar made her way downtown, visiting the Brainerd Family YMCA’s new child care facility. Previously a funeral home at 703 Oak St., the building will now serve 66 infants and toddlers, from 6 weeks up to 31 months old.

Klobuchar helped secure $600,000 through the 2023 fiscal year budget to assist the project.

She pointed to Brainerd as a growing community with a lot of young families as one reason for the large investment.

“This is what we should be doing, which is having the backs of the people of Minnesota,” Klobuchar said. “And we’re really excited because if you are qualified for a job, that’s great, and there are so many people that are, but if you don’t have a place to bring your kids where you know it’s safe and there’s good people taking care of them, then you can’t go to that job. And it’s great for our economy to have strong child care, as well as good for our families.”

The new YMCA facility is slated to open as soon as approval for the permits come from the state. The space includes wide open spaces for children to play, brightly colored accent walls to bring the rooms alive, strategically placed sinks and restrooms for easy access, and one rather unique feature near the entrance. Next to the stairs leading up to the next level is a little slide for kids to have some playground-level fun even in the bitter cold. YMCA CEO Shane Riffle and Badeaux both tested out the slide to ensure it’s ready for all the kids.

While the YMCA waits for state approval, child care is happening in various areas of the organization’s main building across the street. The second fitness studio, child watch area and administrative offices are all playing temporary home to the children after a vehicle crashed through the building’s child care center in October.

Right now the YMCA is licensed for 45 child care spots from infant up through pre-school at its main building. That capacity will increase to 113 with the new facility and a new partnership with the nearby First Lutheran Church, which will begin housing pre-school aged children Tuesday, Jan. 16.

“We have the best teachers, we have the best program, and now we’ve got the best space,” Riffle said Friday, noting the organization is now looking for new teachers as more child care slots open up.