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Beltrami County Board: County turns down city road requests

Beltrami County commissioners last week approved a five-year county highway plan but without work requested by the city of Bemidji.

The county annually as part of the county budget process updates a five-year Transportation Improvement Program which tries to prioritize road and bridge projects and scopes out estimated funding.

A public hearing on that plan was held Tuesday, but no one testified. Instead, County Highway Engineer Tyler Koos read into the record a memo from Craig Gray, Bemidji city engineer.

The county in 2011 is proposing an overlay of County Road 15 from 30th Street to Anne Street at a cost of $200,000.

Gray, in his memo, notes a 2005 plan calling for the stretch to be reconstructed to an urban section with concrete curb and gutter. "The city has been anticipating the completion of this project as we have a number of utility needs in this area to serve the residents of the city and the county," he said.

Koos, however, said the roadway is good and just needs an overlay, not reconstruction.

"The road doesn't need to be reconstructed," Koos said. "We would be subsidizing the city project. Irvine Avenue has sufficient width and has a storm sewer. ... I wouldn't rebuild that road."

Gray also notes that in 2013 the county plans a mill and overlay of Lake Avenue, County Roads 12 and 19.

"One of the top goals of the City Council is to extend water and sanitary sewer around the east side of Lake Bemidji," Gray said. "The city will be very interested in partnering with the county on the project as we will need to investigate the installation of city utilities in this roadway as part of your proposed project."

County Board Chairman Jim Lucachick was reluctant to set priorities for Bemidji roads over the rest of the county.

"We have to make sure not just to target Bemidji," he said. "It's fair to pursue the use of tax dollars throughout Beltrami County."

The five-year plan "does speak well t6o rural areas and the area near Bemidji," Koos said. "I tried to make it fair and address needs where they are. I wanted it to be fair to the whole county."

Gray also in his memo mentioned a potential for sharing a project, as the county proposes a $300,000 resurfacing of County Road 50 in 2010. "The city may wish to partner with the county on this project to resurface our portion of the roadway as well."

Commissioner Jim Heltzer lamented that the plan doesn't increase funding for county gravel road maintenance. The County Board has tried to set aside $700,000 a year from payment-in-lieu-of-taxes funding to pave gravel roads.

The county has 227 miles of gravel road and 20 miles of paved county road.

"We have not increased the money to maintain and improve our own county roads," Heltzer said. "At some point, we can't go year after year with flat support for county roads."

The county also receives state and federal funds for roads, but the purely county roads are up to the county to maintain and are usually three-digit roads.

Commissioner Jack Frost cited a major project on County Road 39 that will see county, federal and Leech Lake Reservation funding.

Koos said the county is also working on partnering with the Red Lake Reservation on road projects. "I expect the future to hold promise."

More state dollars for transportation is needed, said Commissioner Joe Vene. "We need to make a greater and stronger alliance with rural counties to convince the metro counties we have problems here too ... to move product and people great distances."

The five-year plan proposes $27.4 million in construction, with 2009 having the most at $8.3 million. Funding sources include $12 million in state aid dollars and $10.6 million in federal funds. County taxpayers will foot $3 million.

Total road needs in the county would call for $77 million for 181 miles of roadway.