Bus access stymies Walmart expansion

Our Business Monday section this week reported the Hermantown Walmart expansion would finally move ahead after getting the long-sought Minnesota Pollution Control Agency permit for proper stormwater management that had stalled the project for years.

But before construction can begin (likely this fall), a few more hurdles must be crossed. Not the least of which is the difficulty in manuevering  Duluth Transit Authority buses through the the soon-to-be reconfigured property to drop off and pick up passengers.

The planned additions to the existing building makes that difficult, if not impossible. Company spokeswoman Lisa B. Nelson said continuing bus service is important because so many of their customers and employees use public transportation. At the same time, there’s little chance Walmart’s development plans would change, she said.

But I learned just how big the bus problem is when Dennis Jensen, DTA general manager, returned my call Monday, answering questions I had left in a voicemail. Unfortunately, the answers came too late to get into the story.

"When they do the store model, there will be no access to the DTA to be able to serve the front of the store like we’re doing now," he said. "We’ll be regulated to the frontage road. The problem with that is that there’s no adequate space to construct a turnout as you’re heading outbound on Mall Drive on the right side there because of the proximity of Miller Creek."

The planned development makes bus service unworkable, Jensen said.

"We don’t believe as a system we can safely discharge people at a location on a frontage road next to that entryway," he said adding that the problem increases with customer’s tendency to bring carts out to the curb which create more obstructions.

"The (DTA) Board has taken a position that if we can’t reach some type of arrangement to transport people and let them exit and board buses in a safe manner that we would not be able to continue to provide service out there," he said. "And so it is an issue."

The DTA has been talking with developers to find a solution, he confirmed.  "Hopefully we can come to some resolution with the developer and the Walmart Corp," he said.

We hope so, too.