BEMIDJI -- Beltrami County Highway 9 already takes drivers on a few curves. But following a recent construction project, motorists are also taking on a learning curve.
The County Highway Department recently completed a resurfacing and safety improvement project on the stretch of road from U.S. Highway 2 to County Highway 22, or Grange Road. According to County Engineer Bruce Hasbargen, the safety improvements created narrower shoulders, but a larger center buffer.
"It had 6-foot shoulders before, but we reallocated some of that shoulder to the middle of the road," Hasbargen said. "So now, we have an 8-foot center buffer. We've also added rumble strips on both edges, to the shoulders and to the center, and there's no passing now for the entire stretch."
Hasbargen said doing so creates a shoulder on both sides of the road.
"Both sides can utilize it," Hasbargen said. "By allocating more to the center, both sides can utilize it. There's no passing, but if a person is making a left turn, it gives room to move out of the way for traffic."
The changes have raised concerns though for residents of Eckles Township living near the highway, also known as Cardinal Road. According to Eckles Township Board Chair Don Hazeman, questions range from how to go around law enforcement officers making a traffic stop to what happens when a car stalls.
"Basically, we want to find out how to make this road understandable to the public," Hazeman said. "We want to ask how to make it safer."
Those questions will likely be raised at the next Eckles Township meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 8. According to Hazeman, Beltrami County commissioners and public safety officials are expected to attend.
Hasbargen said his office already has received several questions as to the highway changes, many of them centering on how to get around stopped vehicles.
"One of the questions we're getting is 'if there's no passing, how can I get around the mail trucks?'' Hasbargen said. "You can still move around a vehicle like that, and you will have much more room to get around. Instead of getting into the opposing lane, you'll now be entering that center buffer."
Hasbargen said the change is new for the department and there aren't any plans for another type of center buffer project scheduled in the immediate future.
Hasbargen said the change was suggested as part of Minnesota's County Road Safety Plans.
"The reason (County) 9 was selected is it has a higher volume of traffic, higher speeds and it has more density," Hasbargen said. "There are a lot of driveways out there, so a lot of vehicles come in and out. That's the reason behind having no passing."
The Eckles Township Community Center, where the Oct. 8 meeting will take place, is located at 9735 Cardinal Road NW.