By Tom Hintgen
Otter Tail County Correspondent

County officials often emphasize that Otter Tail County is larger in size than the state of Rhode Island, and paved roads total 1,062 miles. This is one reason for the importance of a long-range transportation plan, updated periodically.

Two open houses for county residents, outlining updates to the long-range transportation plan that includes roadway maintenance, were held Nov. 14, at the county Operations Center in the town of Ottertail and Nov. 15, at the county Government Services Center in Fergus Falls.

Roadway funding comes from county taxpayers through the annual levy as well as $20 license tab fees and a half-cent sales tax in Otter Tail County. Additional road money comes from the state and federal government which has been limited in recent years.

The first county long-range transportation plan was developed in 2015, updated in 2019, and is being updated again in 2022-23, with assistance from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

“We will evaluate what projects to focus on between 2023 and 2028,” said County Engineer Chuck Grotte. “Roadway pavements are assessed every two years by the Minnesota DOT.”

Representatives of MnDOT, speaking at both of the gatherings in Ottertail and Fergus Falls, reminded attendees that some highways run through city streets in Otter Tail County. For that reason, transportation planning includes safety, convenience for drivers, reliability, and accessibility. 

“The backbone of the highway system in Otter Tail County requires lots of financial investment,” says County Engineer Grotte.

Resurfacing projects in 2021 cost an estimated $9.4 million. Included was work along Highway 67 near New York Mills, Highway 8 near Perham, and Highway 5 near Clitherall.

Residents who live in rural Elizabeth, attending the Nov. 15 meeting in Fergus Falls, voiced a need for roadway repairs along Highway 27, northward from Highway 10 to Highway 22, southwest of Jewett Lake.

Meetings in previous years, along with this year, have included a review of the county’s overall transportation plan, strategies, accomplishments, and future projects.

“These gatherings,” Grotte said, “provide an opportunity for county residents to provide input on transportation needs, issues and opportunities.”

More about county highway department

An engineering section of the Otter Tail County Highway Department, headed by Grotte, has a staff of nine people.

They are responsible for inspections, engineering design, and construction of highways and bridge projects. This section also provides technical support to other county departments.

The maintenance section of the county highway department, also headed by Grotte, includes 33 individuals who provide routine maintenance services to the highways and bridges.

These maintenance operations are divided into five maintenance areas which contain a total of 10 garages in various sections of the county. Snow plowing during the winter months is part of their job descriptions.