Revised roads standards that have been in the works since 2012 were approved by the Nisswa City Council on a split vote Wednesday, Jan. 15, after lengthy discussion.
The new standards say that construction of new roads will follow the National Park Service Road Manual, which states that roads with less than 50 cars a day need only be 8 feet wide. The default for road reconstruction is the existing road, the new standards state.
City planner Loren Wickham said the new standards would mean that a road isn’t automatically widened when it’s reconstructed, and the new standards provide the ability to keep what’s there.
The vote passed 3-2 with council members Joe Meyer and Gary Johnson against, while mayor Brian Lehman and council members Jan Pierce and Tina Foster were in favor.
The standards started at a subcommittee level in 2012. They were sent on to the planning commission, and were sent on a split vote from there to the council.
Pierce was on the subcommittee and the planning commission.
“Throughout the process we’ve had strong community comment about minimally impacting the environment. We’ve seen places where land has been torn apart to put in roads,” Pierce said.
She added that some literature suggests that the wider, straighter roads are conducive to higher speeds and more accidents.
“The plan is to maintain as much as we can the character of Nisswa, which wide roads, curbs and gutters don’t do,” she said.
Public works director Tom Blomer said that if a private road meets the city’s standards, citizens could petition to have the city take over that road and maintain it, and the city could have trouble denying that request.
“We could have a flood of people petitioning. How can we tell them no?” Blomer said.
City attorney James Gammello said that if it doesn’t make sense for a city to maintain a road, it wouldn’t have to. He suggested the council could pass the national parks road standards but add the phrase, “unless there is a demonstrated safety or drainage problem.”
Meyer was concerned over road width. Many emergency vehicles and city maintenance vehicles are wider than 9 feet. While many narrow roads average less than 50 cars a day, there was concern over two wide vehicles meeting while traveling opposite directions on the road.
Police chief Craig Taylor also had concerns.
“Some of the new roads are excessively wide, but when you make a decision I would just ask that you consider motor vehicle safety. The idea that closing in a road is safer, that they’re going to slow down because they’re insecure, is a theory, not a fact. You have to be considerate of a forgiving design where there is room to make an error,” he said. “Be aware of what 9-foot lanes look like in reality, not on paper.”
Foster pointed out that if every road has to be reconstructed at a certain standard, costs could be incomprehensible.
“This, to me, gives us the flexibility to say no, that one’s good as it is,” Foster said.
The council passed the roads standards, adding that the national parks standard will be applied unless there is a safety or drainage issue.
Meyer said he felt there was a lot of uncertainty with the policy, and he prefered to gather more information. Johnson said he was uncomfortable with the standards.