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Reducing rural roadway crashes: Reconstruction project slated for 2020

LAKE EDWARD TOWNSHIP -- The personal injury crash history on Crow Wing County Highway 13 is "staggering" and county officials are working to improve the public safety of the roadway.

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Senior Engineer Steve Stroschein of the Crow Wing County Highway Department gave a brief overview Tuesday of reconstruction improvements for a portion of County Highway 13 to residents who filled the Lake Edward Township Hall. Jennifer Stockinger / Brainerd Dispatch

LAKE EDWARD TOWNSHIP -- The personal injury crash history on Crow Wing County Highway 13 is “staggering” and county officials are working to improve the public safety of the roadway.

This was one fact discussed Tuesday night during a public information meeting hosted by Crow Wing County officials on reconstruction improvements of a portion of the highway. County Highway 13 is the highway that runs from County Highway 4, north of Merrifield, to Highway 371, just south of Nisswa. The improvement project up for discussion was the easterly portion of the highway and consists of 3.2 miles, beginning at the junction of County Road 137 and ending at County Highway 4.

Close to 50 residents who live along the highway attended the meeting, and the general concerns expressed were about losing property to the county for right of way for the highway, how the power companies would have their utilities align with the project and why the eastern portion of the road was being done before the western portion of the road.

The county’s proposal for the highway is to go from no shoulders to adding 6-foot shoulders; going from no ditches to 6-foot ditches and going from a 33-foot to a 50-foot clear zone/right of way from the centerline of the highway to private property.

The estimated cost of the project is $1.8 million, which has been designated for federal and state funding and is scheduled for the summer of 2020. The remaining segment of County Highway 13 -- the westerly portion from County Road 137 to Highway 371 -- will be reconstructed in 2021 and will be funded with state aid funds.

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Crow Wing County Assistant Engineer Rod Hall said when the county first applied for federal funding for the Highway 13 project, they submitted it in its entirety. However, he said the project was too big and wasn’t approved for funding. The county then split the project in half and submitted the easterly portion of the project, as it was the better fit to be approved for federal funding, which it was.

Crow Wing County Commissioner Rosemary Franzen, who attended the hearing, said applying for the federal grants is a competitive process in which five counties submit numerous projects for a select panel to decide which projects would be approved.

“We’ve been doing well,” Franzen said on having a number of county projects approved for federal funding. “We have received almost $10 million in federal money.”

Before the residents began asking questions on County Highway 13, Senior Engineer Steve Stroschein of the Crow Wing County Highway Department gave a brief overview of the project. Its aims include improving challenges located within the existing highway corridor by using current safety design standards, best management environmental practices, addressing drainage concerns and working cooperatively with utility companies to relocate service lines.

Stroschein said bringing the highway up to safety standards is important. He said since 1998, there were 82 personal injury crashes on the highway, according to statistics compiled by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. In that time period, 30 percent of these crashes caused bodily injury or were fatal. Stroschein said this crash rate is almost double the state average for rural roads.

“MnDOT states 44 percent of the crashes on rural roads are from (motorists) running off the road,” Stroschein said. “This is exactly what we are seeing on this road. The next is rear-end crashes, which is only 12 percent. … This is why we want to widen the road, make wider shoulders to move the trees and power poles so people can’t hit them. We want to improve this road. There are 1,100 cars a day on 13 and studies show that crashes will be reduced by 80 percent by upgrading, and that is why it has been chosen to be reconstructed.”

Residents at the meeting discussed how often their power goes out and wondered where the power companies -- which are Crow Wing Power and Minnesota Power along the corridor -- would align their utility lines. Most of the residents said they would prefer the lines to be underground. The county said they will work with utilities companies during the process of the project and would let them know the residents’ preference. The law requires power companies to fund relocation of facilities when the road authority initiates a project.

“People are not hitting poles that are underground,” Philip Vaughan of Nisswa said. “Power is critical to people here. There are many who have medical devices that need power to run.”

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Having power is critical to Mimi Thurlow and George Burnard, who live together. Thurlow, who is a nurse, said she has Stage 4 kidney failure. She said they have an oxygen machine and need power.

Franzen said the power lines should be underground, but the county cannot control that.

Thurlow later asked how the county would compensate homeowners losing property through the right of way acquisitions, who use that property to earn money. Burnard cuts hay on the property to earn money and Thurlow said, “That is the money he uses to take me to dinner.”

Hall said the county will work with the homeowners during the right of way negotiation process and they would be compensated for any business or farmland income loss.

Residents can go to http://crowwing.us/149/Current-Projects to check out Crow Wing County’s highway improvement plans and its current highway construction projects. The county highway improvement plans from 2017 to 2021 includes 175 miles of improvements, a bridge replacements and two bridge deck improvements adding up to about $53.8 million.

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Lake Edward Township residents Tuesday look at a map provided by the Crow Wing County Highway Department during a meeting on the reconstruction improvements for a portion of County Highway 13. The meeting was at Lake Edward Township Hall. Jennifer Stockinger / Brainerd Dispatch

Related Topics: MERRIFIELDNISSWA
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