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Long-range county highway plans in the works

Otter Tail County leaders want to get more people involved in making a long-term plan for the county’s roadways.

Last Tuesday, county commissioners approved the formation of two new transportation-related committees. The committees will include a mix of elected officials, consultants, and leaders in the agricultural, industrial and tourism sectors.

The goal of these new committees, according to County Engineer Rick West, will be to have a long-range county highway maintenance plan submitted to commissioners no later than February 2015.

The planning process will include “more public meetings and more input from county residents,” West said.

Previous informational meetings were held in Perham, Pelican Rapids, Fergus Falls and Henning. They included a review of the Otter Tail County 2010-2016 Highway Improvement Plan. Also included was information on current and future highway conditions, funding, analysis and planning efforts.

The new Transportation Advisory Committee will include County Board Chairman Wayne Johnson, Commissioner Lee Rogness, two township officials, two city representatives, two representatives of the industrial sector, two from agriculture and two members representing lakeshore and tourism.

A Project Management Team will include West, Assistant County Engineer Chuck Grotte, George Meyer of the County GIS Department, and Twin Cities-based SRF Consulting representatives Brian Shorten and Craig Vaughn, among others.

“The question we need to ask is, ‘What do we want to look like in 20 years?’” said West, “’And what do we do to get there?’”

Forward-thinking people are needed to fill open spots on the two committees, said Commissioner Doug Huebsch.

“Roads built in the 1960s now experience heavier loads and more frequency,” said Rogness. “We’re in a new era and roadway needs have to be addressed.”

The Otter Tail County Highway Department, headed by West, is responsible for 1,062 miles of bituminous highway. These roads are costly to maintain. Overlaying one mile of highway costs about $250,000, according to West. A total rebuild of one mile of each highway costs an estimated $650,000.

The annual county highway department budget is approximately $12 million.