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Council committee supports closing 23rd St. N.E. as intersection solution

WILLMAR -- The idea of closing 23rd Street Northeast to reduce crashes at the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection has gained traction with the Willmar City Council's Public Works/Safety Committee.

The committee is supporting a proposal to close 23rd Street at the intersection, but continue to provide limited access to 23rd Street off northbound Business 71 via an exit ramp, and to provide limited northbound access from 23rd Street onto Business 71 via an entrance ramp. City staff came up with the proposal after the City Council in early June rejected an indirect left-turn design favored by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Kandiyohi County. The design was suggested by a consultant as the best option for reducing an above-average number of crashes at the intersection.

Last week, the city's proposal to close 23rd Street was discussed during a meeting of city, county and MnDOT department heads, but the city's proposal did not receive the support of the county and MnDOT representatives who questioned whether the proposal would solve the crash problem.

The indirect left-turn proposal would have prohibited east-west traffic on County Road 24 and 23rd Street from crossing Business 71. The consultant's January 2009 study indicated most of the crashes occur in the northbound lanes between vehicles heading north on Business 71 and eastbound vehicles crossing from County Road 24 to 23rd Street.

The committee voted Tuesday afternoon to approve the 23rd Street proposal as an immediate improvement to the intersection with the intent to design and construct the improvements in such a way that future long-term improvements can be added if needed. The county and MnDOT will be asked to cost-share any improvements.

The proposal, recommended by Public Works Director Mel Odens, will be considered by the City Council at the July 6 meeting.

The idea of closing 23rd Street was first suggested at a recent council meeting by a resident who lives in the golf course area. Before 23rd Street was extended to Civic Center Drive, the resident said he used to make a right turn from County Road 24 onto Highway 71 and then take Civic Center Drive to the bypass to get to his place of business on U.S. Highway 12 East.

Odens said the intersection is not in the top 10 for city crash numbers, but is third highest in traffic volume. He said the proposal addresses safety concerns and the public's interest in northbound access to Business 71.

Committee Chairman Doug Reese had supported the indirect left-turn concept, but now favors the 23rd Street proposal because he said it was an immediate solution and can be used in the future if a grade separation is built at the intersection.

"It's something that will work out well and mix in with any future plans,'' compared with the other proposal, according to Reese.

Committee member Ron Christianson said he couldn't believe the consultant hadn't come up with the idea.

Fire Chief Marv Calvin said the proposal would not delay fire department response time. If a north side substation is built at the corner of County Roads 24 and 41, the department would proceed to Civic Center Drive "and come in on the back side.''

Police Chief Jim Kulset said the proposal is not a huge issue, depending on how the median is designed.

"We may be able to go over it if we wanted to cut across there,'' he said.

"Otherwise, as was pointed out by one of the committee members, generally we're out on patrol, so we could be pretty much anywhere in the city anyway. It would only affect those folks trying to come from the Law Enforcement Center over to, say, the golf course or someplace on that side of the town,'' he said.

Odens said 23rd Street was originally part of a "loop'' road built through the Willmar Regional Treatment Center (now MinnWest Tchnology Campus). The first part of the loop off Civic Center Drive was built by MnDOT in 1956; the northern part, extending to Highway 71, was built in 1966.

The street was extended to the County Health and Human Services Building, which was completed in 1995. In 2001, when the Law Enforcement Center was completed, the county extended 23rd to Civic Center Drive and turned the road over to the city.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150