The locals call it “pothole street.” One frustrated resident recently described the beat-up Blaine thoroughfare as “third-world” quality.
Whatever its label, 105th Avenue NE. absorbs much of the traffic streaming into the National Sports Center — Minnesota’s most-visited sports facility.
It’s been 30 years since the state agency in charge of the center, the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, was created. The sports center opened soon after, in 1990.
In that time, the busy thoroughfare leading to the world’s largest amateur sports facility has never undergone major repairs. Not once.
“That’s the number one thing right now I hear every day: What the hell are you going to do with that road?” Mayor Tom Ryan said at a recent meeting.
City officials say 105th Avenue has become more than just a bumpy eyesore. It’s also a safety hazard for drivers and pedestrians, including the estimated 4 million visitors drawn to the sports center each year.
And the area is about to get even busier, with an elementary school recently approved to go in nearby. About 10,000 vehicles a day travel over the rutted, mile-long stretch, which was built in 1989.
“Typically we say road has a life expectancy of about 20 years,” said Dan Schluender, Blaine’s assistant city engineer.
That leaves 105th Avenue languishing nearly a decade past its rebuild date. For the second year in a row, city officials are seeking state help to fund the road’s reconstruction, given that most of its traffic comes from the state-owned sports center. The proposed $7 million plan adds in two roundabouts in an effort to slow down speeding vehicles.
The city is looking for $3.2 million from the state and is once again paying a lobbyist $30,000 to advocate on Blaine’s behalf. With less than a week left in this year’s legislative session, the countdown is on.
“If this bonding goes through, we need to be ready to move,” Council Member Wes Hovland said at a work session earlier this month. “I don’t know if that road is going to last another year. Quite frankly, it’s beyond repair.”
Why the delay?
The deferred repairs involve a yearslong back-and-forth with Anoka County.
County officials say talks began more than a decade ago about turning over the road to the city, which Anoka County formally did in 2015, leaving Blaine on the hook for its repairs.
“Nobody really liked it, but we knew we didn’t have a choice,” Mayor Ryan said.
By state law, a county board can revert any county highway to the town it is located in. A county, for instance, might revoke a road if it doesn’t connect communities or is impacted by development, said Anoka County Engineer Doug Fischer.
“This is a very short segment of road,” Fischer said. “It doesn’t really serve a county function.”
Since 1980, Anoka County has turned back about 40 roads to cities. Before a “turnback,” as it’s known, the county often first fixes the road or gives funds to the city for its repair. In Blaine, the turnback of 105th Avenue included $1.1 million for the road’s renewal.
Efforts to revamp 105th Avenue coincide with the sports center’s master planning process, with officials taking a look at topics like expansion and vehicle access.
At a recent sports center town hall, residents shared ideas for the future. Repairing the street that cuts through the 600-acre campus became a common refrain.
“There are so many potholes. It’s terrible,” said Blaine resident Cathy Olsen, whose family plays soccer and Ultimate Frisbee at the center.
While the sports center’s planning has involved an online survey and stakeholder meetings, several city leaders say communication has been lacking.
Some say the disconnect partly stems from a protracted tug-of-war over an unpaid assessment for reconstructing a different street near the sports center several years ago.
“The National Sports Center is a state campus,” said Barclay Kruse, the center’s chief communications officer. “We don’t pay assessments.”
The lingering road repair assessment soon became a sore spot, with the city looking to the state to pay up.
Last month, the National Sports Center Foundation — a nonprofit that runs the day-to-day operations of the campus — stepped in and paid $185,000 so that an elementary school proposed for part of the campus could advance, Kruse said.
The assessment again came up in a recent meeting about 105th Avenue, where tensions flared between council members about the street’s final design.
“It took us years to collect $185,000 from that facility,” Ryan said. “To ask them for more money to help us, even for a fence, you’re not going to get it.”
Should state funding fall through again this year, city officials say repairs must still move forward.
“Everyone agrees that it needs to be done,” Council Member Julie Jeppson said. “But we have this one opportunity to do it. I want to make sure we have the plan that will work the best for the most.”
Hannah Covington • 612-673-4751