Anyone who feared that Scott County was about to slap a roaring four-lane highway across a bucolic stretch of its rural midsection can relax — at least for now.

County Road 8, which delicately circles quiet, shaded lakes as it meanders west from Interstate 35, will remain at just two lanes for many years to come, the Scott County Board has agreed.

“When we started this study,” the county’s highway engineer, Mitch Rasmussen, told board members, “the initial feedback was, ‘this is a vehicle for the county to inform us this will be four lanes.’ In reality, we do use data to make decisions. We do listen. We don’t preset our minds. A well-managed two-lane roadway will work. That’s why we did the study.”

It’s true, he added, that “traffic volumes are nearing the four-lane threshold. But do you want to go to four or do you want to manage two lanes properly — remove access points, create frontage road connections. It can handle the projected volumes.”

The slowing of plans to ratchet up the size of what’s still projected as a key link some day between I-35 and Hwy. 169 most likely can be attributed to the tapering back of growth expectations for southern Scott County.

The emphasis now shifts toward fixing the roadway’s safety problems and other issues.

Open houses on the project drew 150 participants, a sign both of anxiety from some about a loss of rural character and, from others, a desire to create a faster, safer highway.

Highway planner Lisa Freese said the study’s conclusions are supported by all six of the townships in the area.

Planner Andy Hingeveld, project manager for the study, which lasted two years, pointed out that the lack of a major roadway running east-west across the county just makes things worse for drivers further north on stoplight-riddled County Road 42.

In hopes of avoiding the mistakes that commissioners and planners agree were made along 42, the county hopes to limit or even scale back on the number of driveways and the like that empty onto 8.

The biggest changes, Hingeveld said, wouldn’t be made out of the blue but would accompany any future plans to develop land along the corridor.

The county still will seek at times to set aside 200 feet of right of way as a means to preserve options for a much wider roadway, officials acknowledged.

“As new development comes in,” Hingeveld said, “we will request that, so we are planning for the future — so that 20, 30, 40 years from now, we aren’t buying that additional 50 feet.”

Conversely, the study went nowhere near the idea of eventually connecting all the way across to 169, which would create all kinds of new issues. County Road 8 today ends near a golf course south of Jordan rather than stretching all the way to Belle Plaine.

The roadway passes near the future Doyle-Kennefick regional park along one of its prettier stretches, and that means a heightened emphasis on creating trails to link big parks.

“We plan to put a trail on a boulevard,” Rasmussen said. “It’s a concept that hasn’t been completely fleshed out. We will start the trail on the south side of the road, at the west end of the project, then move it to the north side at some point to connect with Dakota County trails, which are to the north.”

Issues with County Road 8 are far more serious along its eastern portion than its western, where it’s straighter and better, planners said. East of County Road 27, the road surface is deteriorating, and curves, especially around multiple lakes, contribute to “significant crashes and fatalities,” Hingeveld said.

A reconstruction project is planned for 2015 from roughly Vernon Avenue to the eastern county line.

New building program

With that out of the way, the County Board last week turned to much more contentious issues, including what sort of plea to lay before the state as it mulls the spending of more than $300 million in a new “Corridors of Commerce” highway building program.

The program aims to fix bottlenecks and the like on major roadways used by freight haulers and other commerce, Freese said.

There was a lot of interest among board members in pushing for multiple Scott County projects, notably along Hwy. 169.

But top staffers pushed back hard, in a way that’s more typical of behind-the-scenes workshops than televised board meetings.

County Administrator Gary Shelton warned:

“We will lose some oomph if we put in projects that are not eligible. [A proposed fix in Belle Plaine] has generally finished at the bottom when we’ve applied for money. If you dilute it, there’s a tendency to have the state discount everything we put in…

“The Belle Plaine project is important, but it has no chance, it doesn’t meet any of the criteria other than that it’s on 169. I’d advise against the shotgun approach.”

The county will seek money for a new intersection at Hwy. 169 and Hwy. 41, now that a major new flood-proof bridge over the Minnesota River somewhere in the Shakopee-to-Chaska corridor seems unlikely to be built before 2040.

Highway planners signaled as well that they already are gazing a few years down the road to when the I-35W bridge across the Minnesota River gets rebuilt. They will lobby to add a lane there — an idea that’s liable to be furiously fought by anti-sprawl advocates.