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Opinions vary on Eagle Lake road project near Willmar, Minn.

Gary Danielson, Kandiyohi County Public Works Director, right, discusses the proposed plans for Kandiyohi County Road 9 during a Thursday night meeting at the Health and Human Services building in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Public opinions about what, if anything, should be done with a three-mile stretch of County Road 9 Northeast on the east side of Eagle Lake were expressed Thursday during a meeting with the Kandiyohi County Commissioners.

The commissioners, who appeared to have as many different opinions about what to do with the road as the people who live on it, could make a decision at their Sept. 20 meeting.

Or not.

Chairman Dean Shuck said after hearing what residents had to say he wasn't sure the board would be ready to make a decision yet.

He hasn't decided what the best option is yet. "I'll have to think about it," Shuck said.

Public Works Director Gary Danielson said the commissioners would base their decision after "listening to what I'm saying tonight and listening to what you're saying tonight."

In the meantime, people who didn't have a chance to voice their opinion at the meeting can send in written comments to Danielson before Sept. 20.

There might be quite a stack of comments to read through, considering the frustration expressed at the meeting when Shuck cut off questions and comments one hour after the meeting began and while there were still hands waving in the air.

Several people asked for a straw poll vote of residents on the different options to give the commissioners a feel for public sentiment. That request was not honored.

The decision on what route to take was already been delayed a year while the Public Works Department explored additional alternatives to rebuilding or realigning the road.

On Thursday, Danielson outlined three options for changing the road, starting at County Road 90 and extending to state Highway 23.

The first option includes a cross-country route across farmland to create an entirely new section of County Road 9. Starting at County Road 90, the new section would join 37th Street Northeast and then merge back to the existing County Road 9 just south of County Road 26.

This new bypass loop would take traffic away from some, but not all, of the lakeshore homes on the east side of Eagle Lake.

The second option also includes the cross-country route but the road would merge back onto the existing County Road 9 a bit north of 26, and a frontage road would be built for about ¼ of a mile parallel to the existing County Road 9.

A third option includes shifting the road just slightly to the east and rebuilding it close to the current corridor. The rebuilt road would be wider and include curb and gutter.

Although prices vary for construction costs and the price of buying homeowners' land for the various options, all three plans cost about $4 million. That costs also include optional bike and walking path routes.

In brief comments after the meeting, Commissioner Richard Larson said he believes a fourth option should be considered -- leaving County Road 9 where it is, putting a new surface on it and making a bike path. That could be done for around $300,000, he said.

Danielson has said privately and publicly that moving the road away from its current corridor and away from all the driveways and other access points would improve safety for the approximately 2,000 vehicles that travel the road every day, and for the residents who live along the road.

He provided studies and statistics to back up his professional opinion. He pointed to the problems with the current road and how those safety deficiencies could be resolved by moving and rebuilding it.

He said there's been 11 accidents in eight years on the road with two recorded as having "serious" injuries. A woman questioned the definition of what makes an accident serious and another said alcohol has been the cause of some past accidents. Another said the number of serious accidents was low because people were "lucky" and that the road should be moved to prevent future accidents or fatalities.

Built sometime in the 1930s, Danielson said the time is now right to improve the road. Because the county receives about $3 million each year in state and federal road construction funds, he said the money is available for the project to be completed next year.

Some residents said the traffic is too fast to safely walk on the road or even step out to get the mail and that the road should be moved.

A landowner who could be forced to sell farmland for the cross-country route wasn't pleased to have her property cut apart, yet said Eagle Lake residents deserve a better road than what they have now.

Although there were concerns expressed about accidents and road safety with the current road, others said moving a section of County Road 9 will simply attract more high-speed traffic off of Highway 23 and channel it right by the Willmar High School, making the route even more dangerous.

A resident asked why it was necessary to have another fast route into Willmar when a four-lane highway was half a mile away.

Commissioner Jim Butterfield said about 20 percent of the people he talked to want to leave the road where it is but make some safety improvements. Others are split on the three options Danielson provided.

Butterfield said he sees both sides of the issue and hasn't decided which option is best.

"I'm going to have to think about it," he said. "I haven't made a decision yet."

Carolyn Lange

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

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