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Paynesville Press - August 4, 2004

Township board rejects Lake Koronis Road closure

By Michael Jacobson

Something needs to be done for safety on Lake Koronis Road.

That was the concensus at a public hearing held last week in front of the township board.

The official purpose of the public hearing on Monday, July 26, was to hear comments for and against closing a section of Lake Koronis Road to thru-traffic from May to September each year. Forty people attended the hour-long hearing, and 30 people spoke, with 10 advocating closing the road and 20 wanting it to be kept open.

The township board heard "loud and clear" that a majority of resident did not want to see the road closed, said board chairman Don Pietsch at the end of the hearing. But the board recognized that safety improvements were needed and promised to look at several options for slowing down vehicle traffic on the section of Lake Koronis Road from Grandview Resort to Veteran's Memorial Park.

A board decision on how to improve safety on Lake Koronis Road could come as soon as their next meeting on Monday, Aug. 9.

map Closure proponents prompted the public hearing by submitting a petition - signed by over 40 residents - asking for the township board to consider closing the road.

Full-time and seasonal residents along that section of Lake Koronis Road argued that the road was unsafe during the summer due to the amount of pedestrian traffic both walking along the road and crossing it, due to its narrowness (which limits safe exits for pedestrians due to the bank on one side of the road and the drop to the lake on the other side), and due to speeding vehicle traffic on the road.

Closing the road to thru-traffic would be a proactive safety measure, rather than a reactive measure after an accident occurs, said township resident Kathy Bagley, whose family has to cross Lake Koronis Road to get to the lake.

Another resident of the road called that stretch a "drag strip."

Furthermore, closing the road to thru-traffic would not eliminate anyone's access to their property.

While opponents of closing the road had sympathy for these safety concerns and recognized that the speeding was a problem, they argued that the lake belongs to all (and that section of road has one of the nicest views of lake) and that other measures could be used to make the road safer.

Closing a road for safety reasons would be a bad precedent for the township, several people said. Lots of roads have heavy traffic, speeders, and the potential of accidents, opponents of closure argued, and if the township starts closing roads for safety reasons, it might face additional closure requests.

"That's where you're heading," said Tom Lammers, who lives on Old Lake Road, which he said could also be closed if safety were the overriding concern. "You're setting a precedent."

Township resident Peter Schoell said that closing the road would be a boon to property owners, who would in effect get lakefront property (without paying lakefront taxes) if the road was closed.

Even the fire department prefers keeping Lake Koronis Road open. They like being able to drive in and drive out, said fire chief Jim Freilinger. It's tougher for the department if they have to turnaround their trucks on a narrow road, he added.

John Wimmer, a city resident, submitted to the township board during the hearing a petition signed by 200 people wanting to keep the road open.

Instead of closing the road to thru-traffic, they suggested a number of measures that could improve safety on Lake Koronis Road, starting with greater police patroling. "It's the police department that we all hire to take care of these places that are dangerous," said township resident John Atwood.

Later, Atwood suggested that residents could help the police slow down traffic by reporting license plate numbers of speeder vehicles. "They have watches for crime," he said. "Why don't we have watches for speeders?"

"We do not see the police," said Ann Nonweiler, a resident of Lake Koronis Road.

Seasonal resident Scott Hoiseth said he'd be curious to know how many speeding tickets were issued on Lake Koronis Road. Everyone needs to slow down, including residents, said Hoiseth.

(At the board's previous meeting in July, they were told by the police that it is difficult to catch speeders on that section of Lake Koronis Road because there is no place for the police car to sit and clock speeding cars.)

Other suggested measures to improve safety on Lake Koronis Road included: speed bumps or buzz strips, adding a stop sign at the intersection with Crosswood Road (by Grandview Resort) to slow traffic coming down the hill, trimming trees along the road to improve visibility, eliminating parking on the road (again to improve visibility), and to look at other options available to the township under the Rustic Road designation.

The township has designated Lake Koronis Road as a Rustic Road, which gives it options for controlling speeds and for safety, including limiting the road to one-way traffic.

The next step for the township board is to meet with a traffic engineer from the Minnesota Depart-ment of Transportation, who could recommend safe speeds for the road and offer suggestions for slowing speeds. The board actually recessed their meeting last week in order to be able to meet with a traffic engineer from MnDOT.

Township supervisor Harry Thielen said he did not want to make a decision about the road until they listened to the traffic engineer ("people who do this for a living.")

Pietsch had already talked to MnDOT before the meeting and started to get safety suggestions.

Concerns about speed bumps include that they are a hazard for plowing; that the township would be liable for damage (such as mufflers knocked from cars or, more seriously, if a bicyclist would lose control and crash); and that speed bumps would be an impediment for emergency vehicles, which everyone wants to drive faster than 10 mph.

One suggestion he liked, he said, was posting speed limits with warning signs instead of the current black-and-white speed limit signs. The current speed limit signs may give a false impression to drivers that 25 mph is a safe speed to drive on Lake Koronis Road, he said. With warning signs, on the other hand, police could enforce speeding on Lake Koronis Road by allowing only speeds that conditions allow, which would depend on visibility and the amount of pedestrian traffic and would be much lower.

At the end of the hearing, Bagley said that they did not really expect Lake Koronis Road to be closed, but they wanted to get everyone's attention and get something done to improve safety on the road.

The township board pledged to research their safety options for the road and to make a decision about these recommendations as soon as possible.

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