Douglas County’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is taking a month to give the public a chance to comment on plans to open most county roads for use by all-terrain and utility-task vehicles.
The Committee made one change to the proposed ordinance to the ordinance that would govern use ATVs and UTVs on county highways.
Under the proposed ordinance, all but two stretches of county highway could be used by ATVs and UTVs.
A 2.78-mile stretch of County Highway B between State Highway 35 and County Highway A would remain off limits because federal funding was used to create a bicycle lane there, and 2.12 miles of County Highway Y south of State Highway 27 can't be used because it’s under the jurisdiction of Bayfield County.
Highway Commissioner Jason Jackman said that stretch of County Highway Y would have to be opened for ATV use by Bayfield County.
Under the ordinance, highway users would be required to carry liability insurance similar to state requirements for automobile operators, must possess a valid driver’s license to operate between sunset and sunrise, and must ride single file on the right side of the paved roadway at speeds not to exceed 25 mph. All operators are required to display a lighted headlamp and taillight on county highways.
Youth younger than 18 must wear protective headgear and no one younger than 16 is permitted to operate on county highways unless accompanied by an adult.
Supervisor Nick Baker recommended an additional provision that prohibits youth younger than 16 from operating on county highways between sunset and sunrise, which was accepted by the Committee.
“We’re not going to vote for approval of the whole thing until October to give people time to review it,” Baker said.
Supervisor Jim Borgeson questioned adding a requirement that operators exit the highway at the nearest trail.
“It would be impossible to enforce,” said Douglas County Recreation Officer Jake Engleman.
Plans include sending the revised draft ordinance to municipal clerks throughout the county to advise towns of the county’s intent to expand use of county highways for the recreational vehicles.
“I will be bringing it up at the Towns Association meeting,” Summit Town Chairman Dan Corbin said.
Jackman said he estimates the cost of signing the new routes will be about $12,000 — money that isn’t included in the county’s budget for this year.
The additional routes would likely open up around Jan. 1, and current routes where ATV use is allowed would likely end, if the ordinance is adopted by the county, Jackman said. He said the county would have to take down the existing signs to place them for the expanded routes.
“Once the signs come down, technically it’s not a legal route,” said Engleman with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. He said it wouldn’t likely become an enforcement issue unless it involved a crash and it’s not signed as a legal route.
ATV and UTV use on County Highways has been relatively uneventful.
Of the 66 injury crashes in Douglas County since 2013, only four were on county highways, Engleman said. Three were on routes that hadn’t been approved for ATV use, he said, and in one case, a reported hit-and-run involving an ATV being clipped by a car for which no evidence was found to substantiate the claim, he said.
“The first one that we know of that is an injury crash that is on an approved route was a couple of weeks ago,” Engleman said. “It was on Highway B the first weekend in August … by the Copper Kettle. Spoke to the female driver. Husband was passenger It was a serious injury crash, but here’s how it happened. Her hat blew off when she was driving down the road. She went to turn around … and drove straight off the ditch. She wasn’t paying attention.”
Baker, who has had concerns about the safety of ATVs on county roads, said, “That makes me feel better.”
The Committee will consider the revised ordinance when it meets Oct. 2, which would have to be adopted by the full County Board on Oct. 17 before it would go into effect.