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Committee takes no action on intersection design

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council's Public Works/Safety Committee made no recommendation Tuesday evening on a possible solution to reducing the higher than average number of crashes at the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection.

None of the four committee members appeared ready to act on a design, which was supported by the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners and the District 8 office of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

A consultant says the design would reduce crashes by 80 percent to 90 percent. The intersection averages six crashes a year rather than 1½ as expected.

Committee chairman Doug Reese told the Tribune in a brief interview after the hour-long committee meeting that he didn't think any of the members were ready to make a motion for action on the proposal, known as No. 3½.

"It will be going to the City Council for discussion by the full council'' on June 1, Reese said.

The design resulted from a discussion held last week by city, county and MnDOT staff members who looked at three options distilled from a consultant's intersection study, which was paid for the three government entities. They agreed the design was the best option for reducing crashes and increasing safety at an affordable cost.

The design allows for indirect left turns in the medians for northbound and southbound Business 71 traffic but prohibits east-west traffic from crossing the four-lane Business 71 highway. Northbound traffic would be allowed to cross Business 71 onto County Road 24 going west; and southbound traffic would be allowed to cross onto 23rd Street Northeast going east.

Jon Henslin, design and traffic engineer with MnDOT's District 8 office in Willmar, said the design will enable the left-turning motorists to look almost head-on with oncoming traffic. Vehicles will be better positioned to see the oncoming traffic out of the windshield instead of out of the side window and with the view being obscured by the windshield door post, he explained.

The design includes a U-turn in the median, located south of the intersection, to allow southbound Business 71 traffic to turn around and head north. Henslin said his office is ready to design the project, with completion in 2010.

Henslin said the design eliminates a U-turn north of the intersection, which had been proposed in one of the three preferred options. He said city, county and MnDOT staff felt drivers would only use this U-turn once. He said signs could be placed directing motorists using the County Health and Human Services Building or Law Enforcement Center to return to town taking 23rd Street to Civic Center Drive to Business 71.

Reese said he initially didn't support the design, but said he changed his mind after it was explained by County Public Works Director Gary Danielson.

"It will be more straight-on,'' Reese said. "The way you are situated in the intersection, you're actually looking out your windshield rather than the side. I felt much more comfortable with it.''

Reese said he agreed with City Administrator Michael Schmit that the design is an immediate solution to the problem.

"That doesn't mean it's going to be a solution that's going to eliminate all accidents, but it is an immediate solution to the difficulty we are experiencing,'' he said.

A resident who lives west of the intersection, Tom Steinman, said he canvassed the neighborhood and residents favored reducing the speed.

Henslin said state law sets the speed limit for the type of roadway.

Committee member Ron Christianson said a roundabout, which was one of three preferred options, would slow the traffic, "so why not slow it down?'' He suggested legislators be urged to change the law and let cities reduce the speed of vehicles coming into town.

Committee member Bruce DeBlieck said he was not ready to make a decision on the design.