County road closure creates headaches for neighborsDouglas County’s Highway Committee started to explore its options for a county highway closed indefinitely.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Douglas County’s Highway Committee started to explore its options for a county highway closed indefinitely.
In July, the county closed a portion of County Highway U near the Amnicon River because of a failure of the road. Pavement has dropped in some cases at least a foot reaching near the centerline, reducing the roadway to one lane in sections of the road.
The problem occurs annually, resulting in $25,000-$75,000 in repairs each year, only to have the road fail again, at times within days or weeks of the last repair.
Simply abandoning the road or closing it permanently is an option that doesn’t sit well with residents of the area.
A permanent solution remains elusive, and could come at a high price with no guarantees, said Highway Commissioner Paul Halverson. Red clay in the area routinely undermines the hillside where County Highway U descends a steep hill north of the Amnicon River. The red clay slope is unstable.
While the road has been barricaded since mid-July, Halverson said he’s found evidence that people are driving around the barricades and still using the hillside section of county highway.
“It appears to be a gravel road, but it actually is paved,” Halverson said.
Photographs of the site shown to the committee revealed new pavement that sunk up to a foot below the level of the road.
“The clay is so unpredictable, it can move several inches at a time,” Halverson said.
He said while people who live in the area are familiar with the road, the danger is to those who may not be familiar with the road that connects State Highway 13 to Amnicon Falls State Park.
“I started there in 1980, farming at the bottom of the hill,” said Marty Botten. He said not having access to County Highway U could bankrupt him and Duane Papineau; running around the barricaded road takes them 22 miles out of their way.
“For years, that road’s always been like that,” Botten said. “I grew up there. They would dump cold tar, the grader would level it out … it might last two or three months or it might last only a month, then they’d be back doing it again.”
One option Halverson suggested was installing gates as a more permanent barrier and giving keys to the farmers in the area so they could still use the road without the greater public having access and placing liability on the county for the often ill-repaired road.
That notion didn’t sit well with John Johnson who runs a firewood business with his son on his property on County Highway U. The business relies on people heading to Amnicon Falls State Park buying the wood and closing the road would remove that traffic.
But like others who live in the area, he said the closure is resulting in putting more miles on trips to work and child care — something that increases the risk of a traffic accident.
Johnson said he felt more comfortable with his wife driving on the hill carefully than driving six miles out of her way to drop their children off at daycare.
Pat Freeman suggested removing the pavement and replacing it with gravel to enhance safety for the public.
Halverson said removing the pavement may make the problem worse; however, with evidence that the road is still being used, he said he planned to fill the sunken areas with gravel to enhance safety.
However, the road will remain closed and barricaded.
In October, the highway committee will weigh its options to determine the road’s future.
“I hear liability but my big concern is loss of life or injury,” said Supervisor Jack Sweeney, a member of the highway committee. “… That in my mind is the No. 1 issue is safety. I don’t want it on my watch to say that someone got seriously injured or killed there when we could have done and should have done something.”