ECKLES TOWNSHIP -- An Eckles Township meeting became an opportunity for residents and government officials to learn some lessons Tuesday night.

The roughly 40 citizens in attendance were able to come away more knowledgeable about a recently finished road project.

And county and township officials learned of a need for better communication.

The roadwork at the heart of the issue was a resurfacing project on County Highway 9, or Cardinal Road, between U.S. Highway 2 and County Highway 22, or Grange Road. Along with resurfacing the stretch, the project also removed 3 feet of shoulder from both sides of the road, while adding an 8-foot center buffer lane.

A center buffer was recently added to County Highway 9/Cardinal Road Northwest west of the Bemidji Regional Airport. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)
A center buffer was recently added to County Highway 9/Cardinal Road Northwest west of the Bemidji Regional Airport. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

Speaking to the crowd Tuesday, County Engineer Bruce Hasbargen called the work a proactive project to improve safety.

"The most common types of crashes we have are when people leave the lane. It's not just leaving the lane on their right side, it can be on the left, too," Hasbargen said. "We selected this stretch because of the high volume of traffic, its high speed and the high density of entrances."

Hasbargen was asked questions ranging from how pedestrian and bicycle safety was considered in the planning to what snowplow operations will be like in winter. Regarding the latter, Hasbargen said plans for plow work on the road are still in development, but added the blades should still be able to cover the driving lanes and operations should be similar to how they were in the past.

On the subject of shoulder space for pedestrians, Hasbargen said the focus of the project was on vehicles. There's not as high of a volume for bicycles and pedestrians, he said.

County Sheriff Ernie Beitel was also at Tuesday's meeting and stressed the importance of the measures taken in the project.

"Anything to improve safety, we're all about it," Beitel said. "This is one of the most dangerous roads in my opinion because of the amount of traffic. That wasn't the case 25 years ago, but more homes have been built along here and cars are able to go faster. Throw in cell phones in there and you have another distraction. Adding a center strip makes a lot of sense, it wakes people up."

Both Hasbargen and Beitel also said drivers can move around stopped or stalled vehicles. The center buffer allows more room for drivers to do so, Hasbargen said.

County District 1 and 2 Commissioners Craig Gaasvig and Reed Olson were also present Tuesday and said if future projects include more than resurfacing and/or include major changes, a better effort will be made to notify and communicate with townships.

"It's a learning experience," Gaasvig said. "Moving forward, I think anything coming up with significant changes like this certainly should be talked about."