A Crow Wing County road improvement project with a long and contentious history was recently adopted by the county board in the county's highway improvement plan.

Commissioners unanimously voted at its Tuesday, April 23, meeting to include County Road 115-also known as Ojibwa and Nashway roads-in the five-year plan.

"This is finally coming together ... after years of working on that. It's been a long time ... but it's become part of our promise to the public," County Engineer Tim Bray said Thursday.

The project scope is from County Road 115's south junction with Highway 371 to its the north junction with Highway 371. County Road 115 encircled Round Lake for about 5 miles.

"There's a lot of folks coming back into the area. It's a high seasonal area ... and they're always interested in County Road 115," said Bray, who prepared the highway improvement plan.

WSB & Associates of Baxter shared more details about the proposal at a July 9 open house in Brainerd that seemed to change residents' minds. Property owners had objected at a previous open house in Nisswa that was intended to clear the air about the project.

"County Road 115 is a very scenic roadway. It is a narrow area with canopy trees ... and the pavement has now worn out. It's actually been worn out for quite a while. Part of the challenge has been to come to an agreement on ultimately what that fix is," Bray said.

Some residents wondered why the roadway could not be overlaid and left as is, but officials contend a simple resurfacing to improve the smoothness of the road would be a "poor investment" and only addresses part of the challenges the county road faces.

"Although an overlay is maybe the least impactful, it's not the correct or the most responsible fix," Bray said of improving the almost 35-year-old road circling Round Lake.

Poor drainage, issues with the subsurface under the pavement, inadequate sight lines and concerns for pedestrian travel safety-versus property values possibly decreasing and uprooting existing structures and trees-were discussed at the contentious Nisswa open house.

"It's taken a bit to find that balance or that agreement between the impacts that a project other than an overlay would introduce, like losing vegetation or the potential of that, the introduction of a roadway that looks maybe a lot less than a rural road," Bray said.

Residents brought a petition and arguments in support of retaining the scenic road to the county board in 2015. They referenced the road's beauty, towering white and Norway pines and its safety record, saying there has never been a fatality nor a pedestrian involved in a crash.

"To strike a balance between some of the vegetative impacts and pedestrian safety and those things, we are incorporating a lot of curb and gutter," Bray said. "It's taken many years to get to that point where people understand what we've been trying to do."

Bray said the estimated project cost will be $4.2 million, and it will take more than a year to complete and will be broken into multiple stages.

"We've been working hard with our consultant WSB & Associates to help gather that level of detail that we just did not have in the past, and that's kind of been the breakthrough," Bray said of recently turning the tide of public opinion in favor of the project.

"We have aerial photography. We have the ability to do auto-CAD drawings on top of that to try to show what we're proposing, but it wasn't the level of detail-survey-level of detail like land surveying-level of detail that WSB & Associates and firms like them bring to the table."

The primary funding for the proposed project will be the county local option sales tax and local property tax dollars, but Lake Edward Township and Nisswa will likely have some cost-participation obligations.

"It's been a long time since I've heard anything negative about the project," Bray said. "If anything, it's 'OK, get it done sooner.' We're doing our best to get the engineering done as fast as we can."

County Road 115 was not designed for the amount and size of the traffic it sees today when it was originally constructed, according to officials from the county and WSB.

"This year, the county commissioners approved the south portion to be done first," Bray said. "County Road 127 is the cutoff to the east, so that's what we're able to promise in the last year of the five-year plan, which is 2023."

The County Road 115 corridor is a rural minor collector that connects to Highway 371 on the north and south side of Round Lake and to County Road 127, another rural minor collector, which connects to County Highway 3, a major north-south route classified as a "minor arterial."

"It's too early right now to look into 2024, but we want to do the improvements in the same back-to-back years," Bray said.

The construction cost of installing curb, and associated underground piping systems, to handle stormwater runoff is typically higher than construction of ditches. The higher cost of the curb option may be offset by requiring less property acquisition and impacts to vegetation.

"We're proposing a total reconstruction of County Road 115 in 2023, which means basically grind off everything, build a new roadbed or an improved roadbed and then increase the width of the shoulder to provide some pedestrian accommodations," Bray said.

The purpose of the proposed County Road 115 improvement project is "to provide a high quality public roadway corridor that is environmentally responsible, safer for all users and maintains the scenic character of the area."

"We also along the way have right of way to purchase, so if you look at these layouts, there's a good portion of it that fits within the existing roadway easement out there today or platted, and the areas outside of that, we will have to purchase and negotiate with landowners," Bray said.

For more information

Learn more about the Crow Wing County Road 115 improvement project at www.crowwing115.com. For more information about the county's five-year highway improvement plan that was adopted April 23, visit https://bit.ly/2VbQ3Vv.