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Rural road project marks big step in jurisdictional realignment

WILLMAR -- A mile-long gravel road just east of the Willmar city limits is about to undergo big changes.Southeast 45th Street, known informally as Green Acres Road, will be reconstructed, get a new name and switch from being a township road to be...

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Kandiyohi County workers wrap up early tree removal Thursday along 45th Street Southeast. The road will be widened and paved in 2017 with turn lanes added at the intersection with County Road 23. RAND MIDDLETON | TRIBUNE

WILLMAR - A mile-long gravel road just east of the Willmar city limits is about to undergo big changes.
Southeast 45th Street, known informally as Green Acres Road, will be reconstructed, get a new name and switch from being a township road to becoming part of the Kandiyohi County highway system. It’s all part of a long-term plan to realign ownership of county and township roads to better reflect evolving traffic needs, traffic patterns and driver expectations.
It also could prove an example to other counties as the Minnesota Department of Transportation seeks to bring road systems across the state into closer alignment with actual need.
“We’re basically responding to the demands of today and projecting into the future,” said Mel Odens, Kandiyohi County Public Works director.
The goal is to ensure an efficient system of local roads, he said. “If a road acts like a county road, then the county should own it. If a road acts like a township road, the township should own it.”
Following a MnDOT report issued in 2014, Kandiyohi County was one of three rural Minnesota counties chosen to pilot the jurisdictional realignment process at the local level.
Southeast 45th Street is Kandiyohi County’s first road slated for realignment in a process expected to unfold over the next several years.
Altogether, 64 miles of county and township roads have been identified as candidates for realignment. About 11 miles of those are township roads that will eventually be turned over to Kandiyohi County. The rest are currently under the county’s jurisdiction and are slated to be turned over to their respective townships.
Another 35 miles are still under discussion for potential realignment.
It has been a grassroots effort, Odens said. “We have willing partners. The townships have been supportive,” he said.
Southeast 45th Street is a prime example of the changing traffic patterns that can spur a jurisdictional realignment.
The mile-long stretch of road once carried mostly local traffic. As the city of Willmar expanded outward, traffic began to increase, helped by the road’s favorable location as a north-south connector between U.S. Highway 12 and Kandiyohi County Road 23. It also started to see more commercial traffic, such as truckers who use the road as an alternative to County Road 9, one mile west.
Daily traffic currently averages 360 vehicles a day, or 15 per hour.
Talks began at least two years ago about transferring the road from the jurisdiction of Kandiyohi Township to county jurisdiction. Public hearings were held and the paperwork is now underway to officially transfer the road to the Kandiyohi County highway system, a process expected to be completed this summer.
In another step, the Kandiyohi County Board took formal action last week to rename the road, which will now be formally known as County State Aid Highway 22 reflecting its eligibility for state aid.
At a recent open house, property owners and the public had a chance to see the final plans for reconstructing the road.
The project, part of the agreement between Kandiyohi Township and Kandiyohi County for turning over jurisdiction of the road, will start this summer with grading. Paving will take place next spring. The cost, estimated at $720,000 over two years, will be covered through the county’s wheelage tax.
New road features will match current and anticipated future traffic needs. In addition to pavement, the road will gain turn lanes at its intersection with County Road 23. The speed limit will be posted at 55 mph.
The project is somewhat of a test case for the entire jurisdictional realignment process, Odens said.
“Everybody learns with the process,” he said. “We’re trying to systematically do it so the process will be repeatable.”
He said it could take 10 to 15 years for all the realignments to be completed. “Some of them are very simple. Some are literally just paperwork,” he said. Other roads might need repairs or upgrading before they’re transferred to their new jurisdiction.
By the time the process is complete, Kandiyohi County should have a system of county and township roads that accurately reflect traffic patterns and motorist expectations and that make the best use of available funding, Odens said. “That’s really the goal of the whole system - to become more efficient. We think it’s helping everyone.”

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