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County Board, on tie-breaker vote, OKs plan to move section of Co. Road 9

Robert Mrozek, left, and Lyle Peterson look over a proposal for the Kandiyohi County Road 9 project along the east side of Eagle Lake during a meeting Thursday in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- On a tie-breaker vote Thursday night, the Kandiyohi County Commissioners approved a plan to move a section of County Road 9 away from a densely populated area of Eagle Lake.

The $4 million plan includes building an entirely new road that will cut across several farm fields east of Eagle Lake, north of Willmar.

The existing County Road 9, which hugs driveways and mailboxes and provides little to no room for people to walk along, will be upgraded at county expense and turned over to the Green Lake Township, even though the township supervisors said they don't want the road and asked the Commissioners to keep the road where it is.

The plan that was approved, which was option number two among the three proposals offered by the County Public Works Department, also includes a short frontage road in front of a dozen lake homes.

It was the same proposal Public Works Director Gary Danielson endorsed during a public hearing Thursday that drew nearly 70 people who expressed their opinions about which plan was the best.

For the most part, people who live on County Road 9 on Eagle Lake supported the two proposals that moved the road cross country into farm fields.

Most said it didn't matter if the option with the frontage road was selected, as long as the road was moved.

Lake residents testified about the "treacherous" nature of walking along the road using a "duck and cover" maneuver, and the danger of turning into their driveways as 2,000 cars a day drove too fast down the narrow, curving road.

Traffic on the road is only expected to increase as changes are made to interchanges from the state Highway 23/71 four-lane highway, Danielson said.

"This isn't a project for today but for the future," said Jim Peterson, who asked the commissioners to build a new road to the east.

It was the owners of those farm fields, as well as other rural residents along the route of the new road, who objected. They lobbied for the third option, which included rebuilding County Road 9 on its current alignment but making it wider with curb, gutter and a walking/bike path.

Moving the highway will create an even faster road with more curves than the current road that will result in more accidents and fatalities, said Sherrie Grindy, who did her own research on accident statistics for the three-mile stretch of County Road 9 that's in the plans, which so far hasn't had any fatalities.

Because a lot of young people use the route to get to the Willmar High School, Grinde said building a newer, faster road will be more deadly.

The differing arguments made by the public was reflected in the commissioners' opinions.

Commissioners Richard Larson and Jim Butterfield said they wanted to improve safety conditions on the existing road but said a simple overlay of the surface was enough.

Butterfield said he ran for County Board with the goal of fiscal responsibility and said the $4 million should be spent on other county roads, like County Road 40 east of New London that is ranked the most dangerous road in the county.

Larson said putting a new road in the middle of farm fields flies in the face of past county action to preserve agricultural land.

Commissioners Harlan Madsen and Dennis Peterson said flatly that a simple surface fix on the road was not an option they would approve of and that the future needs of the community must be weighed when planning transportation routes in the county.

Madsen and Peterson voted in favor of a motion to proceed with alternative number two and Larson and Butterfield voted against it.

Chairman Dean Shuck cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the plan to move the road.

In comments after the meeting Grinde, who will lose some of her property for the new road and is convinced the new route will be more dangerous, said she was "glad that I wasn't the one to make the decision that will result in fatalities."

She also said she hoped Eagle Lake residents wouldn't complain about slower snow removal in front of their homes once the current road is turned over to the township for maintenance.

Danielson said the next step is to talk to property owners affected by the change, begin the environmental assessment and begin the design process of the new road.

Construction is expected to begin next summer.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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