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Cass County Board: MnDOT identifies money to reroute roads around Gull Lake campground

East Gull Lake Drive at the road’s intersection with Gull Lake Dam Road in 2018. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

BACKUS—The Minnesota Department of Transportation informed the Cass County Highway Department Feb. 11 that MnDOT has identified $4,772,500 of federal money, which can be earmarked to help the county reroute County Highway 70 around the Gull Lake Dam.

In January, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers notified the city of East Gull Lake that the Corps' 1926 license to the city (then a township) to have an easement for their street across the Corps dam would be revoked Dec. 1, 2025. The county maintains the street.

Effective in 2025, the Corps plans to close a portion of Gull Lake Dam Road to through traffic—from the entrance to the Corps' Gull Lake Campground, northward to the intersection of Gull Lake Dam Road and County Road 105.

"Having a county collector road run through the Gull Lake Recreation Area has negative impacts to our customers," the Corps' letter to East Gull Lake states. It cites average traffic counts of 1,400 vehicles per day, which rise to 2,000 vehicles per day on busy weekends.

It also cites the pedestrian traffic risk within the campground.

"Eliminating through traffic on the road will reduce the long-term maintenance impacts to the Corps' dam and bridge structure, constructed in 1911," the letter continues.

"Closing the road to through traffic is also intended to address tribal concerns raised regarding the sacred tribal site that surrounds the roadway," the letter adds, noting the sacred site is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cass County's reroute for Gull Lake Dam Road is estimated to cost close to $6 million, County Engineer Darrick Anderson said. He plans to use regular county state aid money to pay the balance not covered by the federal grant.

His targeted construction date is 2023.

The project will merge County Highway 70 with County Road 105, with portions of the old county roads turned back to the city. A new bridge over the Gull River will be part of the project.

The board appointed Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk to serve on the consultant selection committee for this road project.

Gaalswyk said the county already has a design for the new road. He believes only three private properties will be impacted by the new route going across their land.

The county board passed a resolution of support for the city of Lake Shore's planned 1.3 mile final phase of the recreational trail from the south end of Gull Lake to the north end where it is expected to connect with a trail in Crow Wing County, which is planned to come from the city of Nisswa.

The board approved a letter to be sent to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources supporting Lake Shore's application for a grant to construct its final trail section.

Payment was authorized for $150,000 to Lake Shore for a sum the county pledged toward the trail phase along County Highway 77, which was completed in 2018.

The county will serve as fiscal agent for the city of Lake Shore's road improvement project this summer for Jacobs Road in that city.

MnDOT recently completed a speed study of the portion of County Highway 77 from Zorbas to the north county line and recommended no changes from the study done in 1995, Anderson reported. This means speed on that portion of the road will remain as posted.

He said Crow Wing County now will increase the speed limit on their portion of that road from 50 to 55 mph to match the speed limit on the Cass side of the line where the road sections meet on the north side of Gull Lake.

Town road gas tax allotment for Cass County in 2019 is down $4,136 from the amount the county received in 2018, so townships each will receive slightly less than last year. The total for Cass this year is $576,230. It is divided among the townships based on a formula set locally.

One county road bridge will be replaced this year on County Road 107. Anderson said he added two new bridges to the list of those needing replacement.

Currently, there are 10 bridges on the list, with one on County Highway 25 and one in Lake Shore having the lowest sufficiency rating and being most in need of replacement. No township bridges are currently on the list.

Anderson and Land Commissioner Kirk Titus presented a proposal to the county board to replace the County Highway 8 highway and Soo Line recreational trail bridges and to add a pedestrian/fishing bridge as a single unit in 2020.

Doing all three at once rather than separately will drop the cost from $2 million to $170,000, Anderson believes.

Leech Lake Band has pledged $150,000 to the project. There is a $170,000 federal trails grant available. The balance would be covered by $700,000 each from state aid highway money and from recreational trails funding.

The city of Federal Dam has voted to support the project, which would call for the Soo Line Trail to be rerouted across the south edge of that city to the new bridge.

The need for a new trail bridge follows a fire that destroyed the trail bridge last September.

Still under evaluation is how to phase the project, so at least one highway lane can remain open throughout construction. Anderson said he envisions using signal lights at the north and south edges of the bridge to enable highway users to take turns using one open lane at a time.

Anderson presented MnDOT's 10-year capital plan, listing detours around some projects within the county.

A detour on County Highway 22 for a railroad crossing is planned in the city of Cass Lake when state work on Highway 371 is done this year.

MnDOT's major project in Pine River will take place in 2020 when the County Highway 84 bridge will be replaced.

In 2021, the state plans to replace two large culverts on Highway 200 that likely will require a detour. Projects in 2023 in Hackensack and in 2027 in Walker also likely will require detours, he reported.