A roundabout could be part of Crosslake’s future at one of the city’s most prominent intersections.

County Engineer Tim Bray said the Crow Wing County Highway Department intends to apply for grant funds to improve the intersection of county highways 3 and 66 through the Federal Land Access Program, which issues dollars for projects improving access to federal property. The entrance to the Cross Lake Recreation Area and campgrounds, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and some of the only federal property in the county, is located on the western arm of the intersection.

Bray said the reasons for pursuing an improvement to the intersection, tentatively scheduled for 2024, are twofold: to address existing congestion at the intersection, particularly in the summer months when tourism activity is at its peak, and to prepare for the expected influx of visitors once the planned National Loon Center is built within the Corps of Engineers property. The loon center, the main building of which is planned for construction in 2024, is expected to draw tens of thousands of additional tourists to the Crosslake area with limited parking available on site.

“This is a facility similar to the wolf center and the eagle center and those kinds of things around Minnesota that are large tourist attractions,” Bray said. “With that, you’re going to have increased pedestrian demand, vehicle demand. And this intersection that’s already kind of struggling in terms of congestion — not crashes, thankfully — will continue to cause us problems.”

Without outside dollars, Bray noted this intersection isn’t high on the county’s priority list because crashes are not common there. But the potential to combine funds awarded in this competitive grant process with funds from the federal Transportation Alternatives grant program — should the county be selected in its third attempt — means the project is more viable.

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The Federal Land Access Program requires a 20% local match in the event of a grant award, which Bray said he’d include in the resolution he presents to the board at its Tuesday, Nov. 23, meeting. The board is expected to consider authorizing Bray to apply for the grant then.

Bray said the roundabout proposal is very preliminary and if the nearly $1 million were to be awarded, it would include the costs of engineering, a study, public outreach and more detailed design work to help ensure the project takes into account any possible concerns of residents as well as right of way and other elements.

“This is a nice drawing. Our staff does a great job putting together these. But this is a concept,” Bray said. “And there are some people that will look at this, particularly business owners, that will be concerned about what we see here. What I mentioned on the onset is this grant would include engineering, and so we have a lot of stuff to figure out. … It might even move the roundabout, it might be bigger, it might be smaller.”

Commissioner Bill Brekken noted the roundabout as currently designed would impact the parking lot across County Highway 66 from the recreation area, which is a shared lot between a number of businesses. Bray pointed out a portion of that parking lot is actually federal property and is leased for use.

Commissioner Paul Koering, participating in the meeting virtually, said he was proud of Crow Wing County for being forward-thinking, prompting him to reference an actor from the 1985 classic film “Back to the Future.”

“Obviously we know Crosslake, our area, is going to continue to grow in the future,” Koering said. “Whether this project is in a year or two or even at eight years, I think that we as a county board, our county engineer, we’re looking forward to say, ‘What should it look like in the future?’

“It’d be easy for us to say, well that’s the way we’ve done it for 30 years, might as well not change anything. This is being futuristic. I feel like Michael J. Fox.”