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Crow Wing County Board hears feedback, makes decision on Crosslake roundabout

Crosslake residents attended the session, with the majority speaking against the roundabout. Crosslake Mayor Dave Nevin asked the board to table the vote for one month.

People sit in the gallery at the Crow Wing County Board meeting.
People sit in the gallery Tuesday, May 23, 2023, at the Crow Wing County Board meeting.
Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — A roundabout is the preferred option at the intersection of county highways 3 and 66 in Crosslake.

That was the decision of the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, May 23, after commissioners were urged to give the decision more time to find out the future of the National Loon Center, which is a driving force for moving the road improvement project on a fast track.

Commissioners heard pleas from residents to rethink the roundabout choice. Many noted the intersection at Crosslake has something others may not — heavy pedestrian traffic with more expected if the loon center gets the funding it needs to build.

Crosslake Mayor Dave Nevin asked the commissioners to wait a month until the National Loon Center could disclose its plans.

Crosslake Mayor Dave Nevin speaks at a podium during the Crow Wing County Board meeting
Crosslake Mayor Dave Nevin speaks at a podium the during the Tuesday, May 23, 2023, Crow Wing County Board meeting.
Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

“We’re not sure what’s going to happen with the National Loon Center,” Nevin said. He added the pedestrian piece is a big factor and a lot of people aren’t sure the roundabout is going to be the answer. Nevin said with the construction schedule there was still time.

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“I’ve talked to people at the Loon Center and they’ve assured me in a month’s time, they will have their plan,” Nevin said, although he noted they’ve been hearing that for months as well.

Commissioner Steve Barrows said the Loon Center has a pot of money but not enough to do the project, but he said he assumes their goal will continue to be going forward. Barrows said he didn’t see how delaying the project would change that as in a month they’d still be moving forward.

Nevin said the Loon Center has been working hard for years and money is slow coming in.

“Is it going to go for sure, I mean that’s a question I have, I don’t know,” Nevin said, adding he’d like to see that more concretely. “It’s going to impact Crosslake tremendously. … It’s extremely critical and important for the residents of Crosslake what happens on that corner.”

Barrows asked how a month’s delay may impact the project. Crow Wing County Highway Engineer Tim Bray said the goal has always been to have the road work in place before the loon center opens. On its website, the loon center lists 2024 as an opening date. The project area has been discussed for years but a consultant started on the project last year. Bray said in his business there is rarely a chance to be proactive rather than reactive to a tragedy. The project is on a fast track. Waiting, he said, would be difficult but not impossible.

Bray said his preference was to keep the project going but he didn’t want to do that at the expense of someone feeling their voice was not heard.

I think what we are talking about here is the difference between vision and change. You know change is just something we just wrestle with.
Jon Lubke, Crow Wing County commissioner

In respect to the mayor, Commissioner Paul Koering said if Nevin seeks to wait a month and the project can wait, he was leaning in that direction. Koering asked Bray if there was no Loon Center, if a roundabout would be the choice for the Crosslake intersection.

Bray said it's likely the roundabout would have been a topic of discussion with the community visioning sessions dating back to 2017. The roundabout was a natural choice when an opportunity presented itself to find funding, Bray said, in order to build the community vision piece. There has always been a problem of pedestrians coming from the trail and then crossing Highway 66 at random points, Bray said. Putting a trail on the east side of the road is hoped to help minimize crossings.

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“There is an existing problem now with vehicle/pedestrian usage,” Bray said. If the Loon Center changed course, Bray said he would argue it is still needed.

“If you believe me that it’s needed right now regardless of what happens with the Loon Center than a month isn’t my breaking point, we need to move now.”

Nevin said the issue isn’t only foot traffic, it’s a major snowmobile trail and a bicycle trail and all that congestion on that corner is what has residents concerned.

I think they believe they can fight city hall, that the council has disregarded their opinions that they must accept it and move on. And I'm not one of those.
Mary Dischinger

“This is a very difficult decision that we get hit with quite often,” Barrows said, reassuring residents he spends time in Crosslake year-round. “... I lose some sleep over some of these things and we have to deal with — and the final decisions we have to make.”

Nevin said they appreciated the amont of time the commissioners were putting into listening to residents.

Commissioner Doug Houge brought up the option of cutting that month's wait in half, tabling the issue and bringing it back at the next County Board meeting.

“Does that help?” Houge asked. “And then request the Loon Center be here to share information with us. I guess it’s kind of hard to know what is going on there without hearing from them.”

Commissioner Jon Lubke, former mayor of Jenkins, represents the Crosslake area.

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“I think what we are talking about here is the difference between vision and change,” Lubke said. “You know change is just something we just wrestle with. I’d like everything to be the way it was but you know what, I look in the mirror everyday and it changes.”

Lubke noted attending the meetings and visiting with Crosslakers.

“I can picture a vision with what I’ve learned of what Crosslake would look like with the roundabout,” Lubke said. “And I’m not even talking about a Loon Center.”

Lubke noted what Crosslake could look like with the roundabout as an entrance into the city for the future. He spoke of learning about the importance of treating the stormwater and of the challenges with pedestrian traffic.

“That is a destination in the summertime,” Lubke said of a busy Crosslake. “So I’m one who looks at the vision. I understand everyone speaking and saying, ‘Wait, hold back, hold back,’ but how long do you hold back before that opportunity goes away.”

Lubke noted the $1.46 million in federal grants for the project. He said he’s gotten calls for and against and he wanted to be sure everyone was heard. He noted the Crosslake City Council voted to go forward with the project.

After Lubke spoke, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the project with the roundabout as the preferred option, with stormwater improvements and using the 10-foot wide parking lane on the east side of Highway 66 between Swann Drive and Bald Eagle Trail for pedestrians.

Crow Wing County Board members listen as people speak at the podium
Crow Wing County Board members listen as Dodo Fraser spoke. Crosslake residents spoke to the board before a vote on a roundabout at county highways 3 and 66 that is part of a planned Crosslake road project.
Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

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Comments from Crosslake residents

The gallery seating area at the County Board meeting was full Tuesday but not overflowing. Crosslake resident Dodo Fraser said a lot of people gave up after the city of Crosslake voted 4-1 in favor of the roundabout with its preferred option for the road project in the city.

“I came as a bride in 1948 and I lived there and paid taxes for 75 years,” Fraser said, noting she lived in Crosslake longer than commissioners have been alive. “I have a lot of reasons that I don't think that roundabout is a good fit for Crosslake.”

Fraser said the intersection of highways 3 and 66 used to be Crosslake’s downtown. She asked commissioners to drive there and see it. “Take a look around and see how beautiful it is and then imagine what it is going to look like if the roundabout comes in.”

Fraser said she feels most people in Crosslake would rather have signal lights or stop signs or even something a little different than a roundabout.

Mary Dischinger said she’s lived in Crosslake all her life and friends and neighbors are against the roundabout.

“I think they believe they can fight city hall, that the council has disregarded their opinions that they must accept it and move on. And I'm not one of those,” Dischinger said. “This project is being recommended to facilitate pedestrian crossing to the loon center that hasn't even been built yet. If a roundabout were to be built at that intersection, it wouldn't protect the pedestrians, because the primary purpose of a roundabout is to keep traffic moving. It's not a safe way for pedestrians to cross.”

Dischinger said a signal intersection, which comes with pedestrian cues on when to cross, would be a safer crossing at that intersection. And she asked the board to consider the destruction of property and loss of parking for local downtown businesses with the roundabout’s construction. She also noted she wasn’t against roundabouts and is in favor of the one at highways 3 and 11.

Crow Wing County Board members sit behind the dias
Crow Wing County Board members Paul Koering, left, Jon Lubke, Rosemary Franzen, Steve Barrows and Doug Houge meet Tuesday, May 23, 2023.
Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

Sonia Slack, a 30-year-resident of Crosslake who has also been a business owner, asked if any of the commissioners lived in Crosslake. None does. Slack said the county reportedly received an unprecedented number of comments on the Crosslake project.

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Slack noted Crosslake is not laid out like most towns and has one road through town, which even restricts the ability to have a Fourth of July parade because emergency vehicles would be delayed. Slack noted people with disabilities have the cues established to cross at signal lights. The roundabout would need to be gargantuan, she said, to handle the camper and extended trailers that frequent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground.

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“We all know engineers love shiny new objects,” Slack said. “But Crosslake residents have overwhelmingly told you they do not want this change. I believe upwards of $800,000 has been spent just to study our intersection. If you force this roundabout on us against what your constituents have plainly told you they want, everyone will have proof, what we already suspect, that the community meeting was just a ruse. You're here to represent us, not overpower us.”

In answer to comments about the project, Commissioner Paul Koering said he hopes the Crosslake City Council doesn’t feel coerced in any way.

“I'm guessing that the people that are on Crosslake City Council are very strong-minded people that looked at this and voted for what they thought was right. And so I just, I just, I kind of reject the fact that — to say that we're coercing the city council, I don't, I don't believe that.”

Koering pointed to the Ojibwa and Nashway road projects underway again as an example.

“I don't know, eight, nine years ago, the people came in here, with almost like with pitchforks, saying, ‘We don't want this road done.’ And you know, what we, the county board at that time just says alright, if you don't want it, then we just, we didn't do anything at that time. But eventually, we have to do something because the road was falling apart.”

Koering said there are still people who are never going to be happy with it but they tried to make the best decision for the public. As another example, Koering said a $1.2 billion power line is coming through the county, right through his district and people are unhappy, but the power line is going to be for the greater good of everyone in Minnesota.

Robin Sylvester, a new resident of Crosslake, also said she likes roundabouts in the right location.

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“This is a busy location with a lot of foot traffic,” Sylvester said. “And the joy that's happening there will be hindered by the worry of crossing that road.”

Dave Fischer, Crosslake and past president of Whitefish Area Property Owners Association, pointed to studies that confirm roundabouts do more to accomplish objectives of maximizing pedestrian and vehicle safety and improve traffic flow.

“The studies show roundabouts reduce intersection injury crashes by 72 to 80% and reduce all crashes 35 to 47%,” Fischer said. “Converting conventional intersections reduced pedestrian crashes by about 75% when they're made into roundabouts. Particular problems for older drivers of traditional intersections include left turns and busy thoroughfares and crossings and we certainly know that Crosslake is predominately people my age. Roundabouts eliminate these situations entirely.”

Fischer was quoting from the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The study results on the institute’s website also stated motorists failed to yield to pedestrians 2-3 times more at multi-lane roundabouts than at single-lane roundabouts. The single lane roundabout is planned for Crosslake. The institute stated another study found drivers exiting a roundabout were less likely to yield to pedestrians than drivers entering a roundabout.

“Perhaps the most interesting results of the Institute published studies is the fact that only 36% of people support roundabouts before construction,” Fischer said. “But shortly after they're built, the number rises to 50%. And one year later, 70% of the people support that a roundabout was built.”

Fischer urged the board to approve the recommended preferred options and applauded the board for including stormwater management improvements that will benefit the Pine River Watershed.

After the board vote, Fraser said, “Thanks for nothing.”

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter @DispatchBizBuzz.

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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