WALKER -- Longtime area property owners made up the vast majority of citizens offering comments Thursday night on the Highway 371 corridor at a Walker meeting.
Jay Blake of Dahlgren Shardlow and Uban, who is coordinating the Highway 371 corridor study through Cass and Crow Wing counties, said many more newer residents were represented at public meetings farther south along the corridor.
Another difference is the northern corridor segment has undergone much less new development than the southern end, he said.
Those present in Walker represented local governments, as well as residents and business owners holding property on or near 371 from Hackensack to Cass Lake.
Natural areas topped their view of positives existing along Highway 371, with lost green space their most significant negative concern.
As people who have been in the area longer than those commenting at other citizen meetings farther south on Highway 371, this was the first group to emphasize an appreciation for the things the Minnesota Department of Transportation has been doing right with the highway itself and areas where MnDOT has failed as growth has occurred.
Roadsides -- rest stops, scenic views, forested areas and the Adopt-a-Highway clean-up program -- ranked second in Highway 371 assets.
After the importance of development controls, a point important in citizen views throughout the corridor, northern Cass residents saw MnDOT's good road maintenance as the next most significant positive.
The fact more people are using alternate routes like County State Aid Highway 1 and Highway 64 to travel north and south through the county was viewed as another plus. MnDOT's newer bridges and pavement overlays were viewed positively.
Among the negatives they saw along 371 were billboards, highway design safety problems for the traffic volume, traffic volume itself and safety issues with highway accesses.
They also objected to strong lights around some businesses.
When asked to create a vision of what they would like to see on the highway 20 years from now, the group listed a variety of services, such as gas stations, lodging businesses, food service businesses and rest stops.
They put an emphasis on green space buffers between those businesses and the highway, with accesses off the highway to clusters of those businesses close to, but not on, the highway.
They want to see larger trees, wildlife and scenic views along the highway itself. Signs on the highway should be small and be clustered at access points to list only business names and services.
In looking at development that has occurred around Hackensack and Walker, comments showed an appreciation for log and other natural looking construction materials and landscaping around businesses.
There was a lot of criticism for bulldozing hills and valleys into flat, treeless areas. The size and number of signs were criticized.
Highway 371 itself probably will not become four lanes north of Pine River in the next 20 years, Blake said Thursday.
MnDOT traffic projections do not warrant it at this time. If traffic needs do change, there definitely will be a problem routing double lanes past Leech Lake at Walker, he said.
Currently, there is a causeway carrying single lane traffic each way by Shingobee Island. "Filling in Leech Lake would not be an option today," Blake said.
The highway now goes through downtown Walker. Buildings on either side do not permit expansion to two lanes each way.
There will be four more citizen comment meetings along the corridor in July, Blake said, encouraging people to attend. Citizen views are an essential part of this plan, he said.
Information will be available at July meetings about existing municipal sewer, water and road capabilities to handle growth. Citizens will look closely at where growth should and should not occur, Blake said.
The next meetings in Cass County are scheduled for 7 p.m. July 18 at Cass Lake City Hall and July 20 at First Lutheran Church in Pine River.
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