Crow Wing County Board to consider Crosslake roundabout option May 23
Options for the highway and pedestrian access on Highways 3 and 66 in Crosslake have people for and against the roundabout option at the intersection.
BRAINERD — Roundabouts are like black licorice, people love them or hate them.
Tim Bray, county highway engineer, attributed that to a quote by assistant highway engineer Rob Hall.
“And I would say that that's really true,” Bray said. “ Yes, there are some people in the middle, but there's really strong feelings on both sides.”
The current roundabout in question, at the intersection of Highways 3 and 66 in Crosslake, has generated strong reactions on either side. Tuesday, May 23, the Crow Wing County Board will be asked to establish a preferred alternative for the intersection and pedestrian options. Earlier this month, the Crosslake City Council voted 4-1 in favor of the roundabout and a pedestrian option that will eliminate some of the parking.
On May 16, Bray told the Crow Wing County Board the Crosslake project, where they’ve been working with a consultant in Bolton & Menk since last fall, is at a point for important decisions. Bray said the Crosslake project and improvements on those roadways in the city has been a point of discussion going back to 2017. The county and city have looked at pedestrian access, traffic safety and water quality issues along the main road corridors in Crosslake.
Together, in 2022, the county and the city went after federal grant dollars and were successful in getting $1.46 million.
“And then we went about the busy work of trying to develop a project,” Bray said. “... And we're getting to the point where we need to have some important milestone decisions made because it can alter the course of the project.”
In particular, Bray was referencing the intersection of county highways 3 and 66 at the entrance to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cross Lake Recreation Area and pedestrian options. Decisions on pedestrian access choices will have implications on storm sewer, parking loss and engineering work.
Bray said he was looking for a decision on those two things and then they could set the direction for consultations on the final design. One of the goals was to make sure things were in place before the National Loon Center opens.
The Legislature, in 2019, set aside $4 million to construct the center. The center, aimed at the health of loons and habitat, is opening an interactive, educational and recreational center in Crosslake in 2024. The center is expected to bring more pedestrians and traffic to the area.
The area already attracts considerable pedestrian and vehicle traffic with residents, seasonal residents and visitors. According to a study by Widseth Smith Nolting, the Cross Lake Recreation Area alone brought in 20,000-28,000 visitors per month in the summer of 2018. A parking and pedestrian route study started in June of 2019.
Since August of last year, the county reported it, along with the city of Crosslake and Bolton & Menk, have sought public input on the project, including a public open house Nov. 29, 2022.
Public outreach “included a continuous online platform to share information and gather comments and ideas on specific locations throughout the project area. It also included two formal in-person project open houses, multiple engagements with the Crosslakers community action group, and appearances City Council meetings. A Project Management Team (PMT) consisting of the County Engineer, two representatives from Bolton & Menk, and four members appointed by the City Council, met six times to review project data and alternatives,” the county stated in a report in advance of the Tuesday, May 23, County Board meeting.
When the board met as the Committee of the Whole on May 16, Bray provided an overview. He said normally projects are developed over the course of three to five years in planning, reserving money, but with the grants, timing, analysis of final decisions associated with the loon center, the project is on fast track. The hope, Bray said, is to have the design completed by next spring and have it in the ground and available to the public soon after.
A main issue is the traffic control at highways 3 and 66 and whether that would be a signal light, four-way stop or a roundabout. The recommendation from the traffic engineer was for a roundabout as the best choice in terms of traffic and pedestrian safety.
In recent years, roundabouts have begun to dominate the intersection landscape. Because vehicles are not going in opposite directions, the roundabout design aims to keep one of the most destructive vehicle crashes from happening — the head-on collision. The roundabout design proposed would have one lane at Crosslake.
A roundabout, Bray said, can reduce 32 conflict points where vehicles can run into each other or conflict with pedestrians, down to eight. For pedestrians, it can reduce the distance to cross open roadways from 60 feet to about 14 feet.
“That's why they're deemed to be safe,” Bray said. “There's less points where vehicles and pedestrians can run into each other.”
So while engineering was leaning to the roundabout, Bray said public comments are on all sides. Page after page of comments were included for the commissioners to go through.
Commenters worried about losing what makes Crosslake attractive, felt a decision was already made, questioned how a roundabout would handle the camper, boat and trailer traffic or make it worse, questioned how pedestrian access was improved with the roundabout.
Comments spoke in favor of a smart signal light, questioned if there was ample parking, questioned if people navigating the roundabout would be paying attention to pedestrians trying to cross as well. Others worried pedestrian traffic would shut down the traffic flow with a roundabout instead of a traffic signal. People noted Breezy Point has a four-way stop at county highways 4 and 11 and makes that work.
Commenters were also specific about needs on the route, down to curb cuts for bicycles and bold crosswalk paint. Some asked to use a signal light before deciding it wouldn’t work. Others stated the roundabout was the best option for the intersection and were safer and noted the busiest intersections in the world use them.
Less controversial but also of impact will be the choice for pedestrian access. Currently there isn’t a designated pedestrian route on the east side of Highway 66 and with attractions on either side of Highway 66, pedestrians can cross at unpredictable places within the corridor.
Bray said a 10-foot parking lane on Highway 66 is seldom used in several areas. Using the parking space can lessen the impact on businesses along the highway, which narrows the road to help slow the traffic and that is one of the options, Bray said. One other option is to go behind the curb and impact the businesses.
Concept A doesn’t consume the parking and curb and gutter remain the same. Concept B uses the parking lane and adds a boulevard and sidewalk for pedestrians and since that changes things on catch basins and the gutter line, it is more expensive.
Bray said it increases the cost because it essentially reconstructs the roadway, which was not initially intended, but the infrastructure is 50 years old and it makes sense to take this opportunity since everything basically on top is being redone.
The Crosslake City Council preferred Concept B.
With one of the goals being water quality, Bray said replumbing and directing water to different collection systems to settle out the pollutants in the water there will be a better ability to address water quality.
Commissioner Jon Lubke said protecting the stormwater by Trout Lake and on the northern part of Highway 66 focused on doing more with stormwater runoff so work for this project would continue an established effort in favor of water quality.
Bray said the county has $2.5 million for the project with grant funds included in that amount. With the preferred option, Bray said he would ask to increase the county budget by $900,000. The good news, he said, is that the two grants received pay the lion’s share and a 20% contingency fund will likely be less. In addition, there may be additional assistance related to the water quality efforts. Bray said he doesn’t anticipate any impact to the levy with money coming from the local option sales tax and state aid.
Lubke said he didn’t know a lot about this project when he started on the board but he listened to Crosslake and there were those ready for it and those opposed, but he said he appreciated the civil discussions about it.
“It is a tough decision to make, but it is ours to make,” Lubke said.
Lubke said looking at the majority of the stakeholders, the pedestrian safety derived from this recommendation, which is very important to that area, and protecting the waters, he favored the preferred option.
“I don't think there's another way that we can do it up in that area with expending money and not doing those other items,” Lubke said. “And I think at the end of the day, we will have a really neat project there. And I think it would give Crosslake a really good chance to have a formal entrance to the city. And so I'm definitely for it.”
As a last note, Bray said he’s been trying to be very careful about giving the public their voice with diverse opinions about the project and he encouraged the board to let people voice their opinions if they attend the May 23 meeting as well.
“I did hear from somebody yesterday who was adamantly opposed to this, and I've listened,” said Commissioner Paul Koering. “And I'm certainly going to continue to listen from now until the board meeting.”
Koering remembered the push back against the Ojibwa Road project was so much the board walked away from that project for many years and now it is ongoing and when it’s done he thinks people are going to say it is great and long overdue.
“For sure, on Ojibwa, you really worked hard with the landowners along the way. So I'm going to continue obviously, I haven't made up my mind yet. But I want to move this forward to the board meeting,” Koering said.
The board meeting starts at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 23.
Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @DispatchBizBuzz.