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MnDOT, county says proposal is now in hands of the city

Traffic is pictured Thursday at the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection. Representatives with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Kandiyohi County and the city of Willmar are discussing ways to solve the high number of crashes that have occurred at the site in recent years. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Representatives of the city of Willmar, Kandiyohi County and Minnesota Department of Transportation reached no consensus Thursday morning on a design proposed by the city for reducing crashes at the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection.

The city had invited county and MnDOT representatives to discuss the city's intersection design idea that would close 23rd Street at Business 71 and would prohibit westbound traffic on 23rd Street from crossing Business 71 over to County Road 24. The design idea would prohibit eastbound traffic on County Road 24 from entering 23rd Street. A consultant's study showed most crashes involved northbound Business 71 vehicles and eastbound vehicles entering 23rd Street. Eastbound traffic from the county road would still be allowed turn north onto Business 71.

The proposed design would allow northbound Business 71 traffic to enter 23rd Street via an exit ramp. Also, traffic from 23rd Street could enter northbound Business 71 via an entrance ramp.

City staff came up with the design after the City Council in early June rejected a design favored by MnDOT and Kandiyohi County that was suggested as the best option for reducing crashes and increasing safety at an affordable cost.

The design favored by MnDOT and the county would allow for indirect left turns for northbound and southbound Business 71 traffic, but would prohibit east-west traffic from crossing the four-lane Business 71. The design would provide visibility to left-turning motorists through their windshield of oncoming traffic rather than out their side window, which may be obscured by the vehicle's side post.

The favored design came out of a consultant's intersection study.

"We had an hour-long discussion and I think it's probably safe to say we did not reach any consensus,'' said City Administrator Michael Schmit.

Jon Henslin, design and traffic engineer with MnDOT's District 8 office in Willmar, agreed no consensus was reached but declined to further comment.

"I talked to (District 8 Engineer) Dave Trooien,'' said Henslin. "He said this is a city issue now. They've got to get it resolved. The ball's in their court. They've got to decide what they're going to do here.''

Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl said the meeting was good and the county came to listen. Although the city's idea has some merit, the county is concerned whether the design will completely meet safety needs because the design still allows crossing traffic and it's the crossing traffic that's causing many of the crashes.

"We don't know if that design as it's proposed right now will clear that up,'' Kleindl said. "We went there as good partners, to listen. But we have some concerns about their proposal.''

Kleindl said the county and MnDOT would not undertake safety improvements without the city's participation.

Schmit said the city's idea addressed some of the concerns of the traveling public in that area: to leave that crossing open so that eastbound traffic on County Road 24 could still go north at the intersection.

Schmit said the intersection will be placed on the agenda of next Tuesday's Public Works/Safety Committee meeting.

The options, he said, are to do nothing and hope that people develop better driving habits when going through the intersection, agree to work with the county and state on their preferred design, or take a position on the city's design idea and ask the state and county for their support.