Crow Wing County commissioners split in a final vote Tuesday on the Riverside Drive construction project, ultimately deciding to reduce part of the roadway to 36 feet in width.
At Tuesday's board meeting, commissioners heard final recommendations for an 850-foot extension of the current construction phase. Duane Blanck, highway engineer, recommended keeping the road 44-feet wide, but residents of the area objected. Riverside Drive, also known as County State Aid Highway 20, winds through residential areas between Gilbert Lake and the Mississippi River.
Residents from the area asked commissioners to keep the planned narrowing of the road after it passes Ashmun Road and heads toward its narrowest point at Ahrens Hill.
Blanck suggested keeping the road at its 44-foot width through the Ahrens Hill Drive South intersection. Commissioners agreed with a plan to remove a curve, covering about 400 feet along that section. Original plans called for the road to narrow to 32 feet in width after Ashmun Road and then to 28 feet around Ahrens Hill. Blanck said keeping the road at its full width allowed a full shoulder for parking and multi-use.
Commissioner Gary Walters suggested a 36-foot road width. Walters said on-street parking was not needed in the area and the width would still be safe for pedestrians. Blanck said parking will still occur on a 36-foot roadway and leave less room for biking and walking.
Walters and Commissioner Dewey Tautges voted for the 36-foot road width. After a long pause, commissioners John Ferrari and Ed Larsen opposed. Chairman Terry Sluss was left with the tie break.
"I'm torn," Sluss said. Casting the deciding vote with Walters and Tautges, Sluss said he understood the rationale for the wider road, but in this case had to listen to the neighborhood's wishes.
On a related second split vote, Sluss joined Larsen and Ferrari in opposing a motion for roll-up or mountable curbs instead of the six-inch curb. Blanck said drainage would not be an issue, but he did not support changing the roadway's design look with 1,000 feet of roll-up curb while the rest of the road design had six-inch curbs.
Sluss said he agreed the roll-up curbs, which are easier for cars or bikes to drive over if needed, were not necessary as long as the area is a no-parking section. Larsen said he was concerned the roll-up curbs would not hold the same amount of water. Blanck said that would not be a big issue in this case.
"This has not been an easy process to go through," Sluss said. "Obviously it has been going on for 20 years."
Walters asked for the issue of a pedestrian access to the four-lane road section between Beaver Dam and the Brainerd Area Civic Center be placed on the next county board agenda.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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