Highways for Habitats #2: Perham’s Routes

Perham downtownTransportation planning is tough.  Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes.  Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit).  Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates.  We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities.  Check out more about our inspiration here.

The small city of Perham, Minnesota serves as a regional economic center, providing jobs for more people than live there.   The town is centered on U.S. Highway 10, and the influx of workers coupled with the vacationing travelers driving through gave Perham the incentive to make their downtown more attractive, welcoming and safe.

Many factors contributed to the town’s traffic patterns in need of solutions.   First, nearly 1,200 tractor-trailers travelled down the small main street each week.  Additionally, the town hospital is located in a way that ambulances had to navigate through the downtown area, and around the slow moving tractor-trailers.

Local government, business leaders and community members worked together to design a solution and secure funding.  The goal was to use strategic, business-minded transportation investments to achieve positive economic development outcomes.

In Perham, a diamond interchange was installed on Route 10 to move traffic through with direct access to their destinations and away from downtown.  City businesses were strongly in favor of the interchange, because it aimed to create a more pedestrian friendly and leisurely downtown area.  More walkable, welcoming downtowns draw residents and tourists to slow down and spend some time in the area.  For this reason local businesses pledged $270,000.

The project was also funded through a unique public-private funding partnership.  Minnesota’s Transportation Economic Development (TED) Program, which gave Perham $4 million, funds smaller scale and more innovate projects that focus on local communities’ specific business development needs.  The program is intended to combine with local funding, demonstrating the community’s support for the project.  In addition to being a transportation improvement project, economic development must be a potential outcome.  The TED Program criteria are designed in a way to encourage government and local community and businesses working together.

With this project moving forward, Perham was able to leverage Minnesota Department of Natural Resources funding to build The Wildflower Trail, a 3.3 mile multi-use trail along side Route 34, the city’s third addition to its trail network.  Residents could now more safely and comfortably bike and jog around town.  The collaboration between the planned trail’s property owners resulted in a swift 45 day completion of the trail.

Since the completion of the projects, Perham residents are enjoying their quieter downtown, while area businesses have grown.