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Tim Henkel of the Minnesota Department of Transportation speaks during an informational meeting Friday morning in Willmar to discuss transportation planning in MnDOT's District 8 in the coming years, as well as plans for the entire state. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

MnDOT won't add crash-prone intersection to 71/23 study

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MnDOT won't add crash-prone intersection to 71/23 study
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council had asked the state to include a crash-prone North Business 71 intersection in a study of improvements for a section of Highway 71/23 north of Willmar.

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But the intersection won't be part of the study, said Dave Trooien, district engineer at the Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8 office in Willmar.

Trooien was asked by the Tribune if the intersection could be included after the council delayed action Monday night on proposed intersection safety improvements.

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners in January also delayed action on improvements proposed for the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection, which is owned by city, county and state.

"That study (of the section north of Willmar) is almost completed, so it cannot be a part of that study,'' Trooien said during an open house Friday morning to gather public comments on MnDOT's 20-year transportation plan and MnDOT's District 8 plan.

As part of the safety improvements along a 3.5-mile stretch of Highway 71/23 north of Willmar, MnDOT is looking at closing some of the crossovers, rebuilding some of the frontage roads and building new interchanges at County Road 90 and County Road 25.

Trooien said he didn't know when the improvements would be built, saying it all depends on funding.

Todd Broadwell, assistant district engineer, said the study should be wrapped up within the year.

Though the troubled intersection near the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building will not be added to that nearly completed study, Trooien said MnDOT will honor the Willmar City Council's request for a speed study there.

A separate study completed by a consultant said the intersection's crash rate is almost four times higher than that of similar intersections.

Beyond that, Trooien said, MnDOT will put the design of proposed intersection improvements on hold as the city and county have requested.

"We'll abide by their wishes and delay the design,'' he said. "From our part, the design will be delayed until the city and county ask for further action on it.''

The 20-year District 8 investment plan says state Highway 23 -- the one highway corridor traversing the 12-county district in southwest and west central Minnesota -- has become a focal point for growth in the district.

The plan says the state Highway 23 corridor has seen substantial new development and redevelopment along it in the past 10 years. As part of MnDOT's interregional corridor network, Highway 23 has also been the focus of MnDOT investment over the past 10 years to meet the growing demands along the corridor.

The plan said District 8 is the only district of the eight that does not have an interstate or continuous four-lane roadway to connect to an interstate. As such, the plan says, transportation access to national and international markets has been a concern of businesses, farmers, local governments and state legislators.

Recently, cities from Pipestone to Willmar formed a coalition to push for development of Highway 23 into a four-lane corridor.

Their interest is not lost on Patrick Weidemann, District 8 planning director.

"We heard loud and clear from the previous couple of sessions: four-lane, four-lane, four-lane access,'' he said.

"We as a district will try to do four-lane spots, but we want to keep everybody's expectation down because there is not enough resources to four-lane it completely. But we're going to try and make some hits along the way to improve it,'' said Weidemann.

The District 8 investment strategies from 2009 through 2012 focus on the Paynesville bypass and preservation of the roadway system. A large portion of the district's funding will be spent on the four-lane Highway 23 bypass around Paynesville.

Although the bypass is located in District 3, the mobility improvement and expanded four-lane access created by the project will be almost exclusively felt by District 8, and the district made a commitment several years ago to fund this project, the plan says.

"Between 2013 and 2018, we are pretty much in a preservation-only mode,'' said Weidemann. "We put a lot of money into Paynesville, and when we did that, we took it away from preservation, so our network's roadway condition is deteriorating, and we must catch back up.''

Between 2010 and 2013, the district will replace the historic state Highway 40 bridge located west of Milan. Weidemann said the Legislature has made bridge replacement a high priority with MnDOT.

The Distrtict 8 open house at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building was the third of eight MnDOT district open houses between Feb. 2 and Feb. 20.

A public hearing on the state plan, which combines the district plans, will be 9 a.m. to noon March 26 at MnDOT Central Office in St. Paul.

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A complete draft of the plan may be seen at any district office or at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/stateplan/

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