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Nisswa: Sportland Corners intersection improvements eyed

County Roads 13 and 77 at their intersection with Highway 371 in Nisswa are in line for improvements. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

The upcoming American National Bank development at Sportland Corners in Nisswa has led to discussion of improvements at the Highway 371 and County Roads 13/77 intersection.

Ron Bray, transportation engineer with WSB & Associates civil engineering firm, told the Nisswa City Council at a special meeting Wednesday, Sept. 5, that planned development at the corner "spurred hasty conversation" about the intersection, which he said has problems and can be confusing for motorists.

Bray emphasized that no plan is yet set in stone, but Crow Wing County does plan three phases of improvements to CR 13 from 2019-21, starting at the Highway 371 intersection and moving east to the County Road 4 intersection. Discussion with the city and affected property owners, including American National Bank, are now beginning because of the bank's plans to tear down the Sportland Cafe building and build a bank with a coffee shop as a tenant.

The bank should know road access plans when planning the development.

When asked why intersection improvements had to start in 2019, Bray said improvements are needed for safety reasons.

The first phase of improvements would be from the water slide on CR 77 to the corner just beyond Schaefer's Foods and Lutheran Church of the Cross on CR 13 to take care of the immediate concern of congestion and confusion.

The stoplights currently don't offer green arrows for lefthand turns from either CR 77 or CR 13 onto Highway 371, and more lanes are needed on the county roads to allow for that and to alleviate confusion.

Bray said a traffic study was done last winter for intersection improvements, crashes were reviewed and future traffic and development were considered. Comparing it to a school report card, the intersection has low grades now and would fail in 20 years, he said.

"Not great news for 20 years from now," Bray said.

He talked about traffic backup from Highway 371 through Smiley Road, which is the frontage road on the east side of the highway. A future wish would be to move intersections away from the highway, with the potential for roundabouts on the county roads years down the road.

For now, the plan is to work with the city to develop a new access plan for now and the future, Bray said, noting they don't know what that means, but they have ideas.

A big goal of this project is to modify the signal by 2019, he said, noting access is suffering at this time. However, they won't change access or move frontage roads in 2019.

Council member Don Jacobson asked what the city would be expected to pay for the project. Steve Strohschein, with the Crow Wing County Highway Department, said the intersection has immediate and future needs, and the county wants to work with the city to get the right decisions now so when future development comes to the area there is a master plan to accommodate traffic. The county does have a cost share policy, he said.

About 25 people attended the Sept. 5 meeting, including several residents from the Crossroads townhomes who asked questions about how plans could affect their neighborhood.

There will be future meetings and time for input, Mayor Fred Heidmann said.

Council member Ross Krautkremer was absent from the Sept. 5 meeting.