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Intersection proposal endorsed

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners has approved a plan to revamp the Business 71 and 23rd Street Northeast intersection in Willmar. The intersection, pictured above, has been the site of multiple accidents, including a fatal last month. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- A plan to revamp an intersection that has a high accident history, including a fatality last month, was endorsed Tuesday on a 4-1 vote by the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

The design is a combination of two plans prepared by a consultant hired by the county, the city of Willmar and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Staff from all three entities met Monday and agreed the combined plan was the best alternative for reducing accidents and increasing safety at an affordable cost, said Kandiyohi County Public Works Director Gary Danielson.

"It's a good safety solution for the buck," Danielson said.

Commissioner Richard Falk, from Willmar, voted against the plan. He said the design would be "real confusing and not be well accepted."

Falk said he does not think the Willmar City Council will approve it.

At its meeting Monday night, the City Council briefly discussed the proposal but referred the issue back to its Public Works/Safety Committee.

Danielson referred to the plan as "number three-and-a-half" because it includes the engineer's third alternative and half of the eighth alternative.

The proposal includes partially closing the median by not allowing traffic to go east and west across the four-lane highway, which is where the accidents have occurred.

Emergency vehicles would be allowed to cross the median.

Right and left turns will be allowed from Highway 71 by creating special turning lanes. Those aspects were included in alternative number three.

The eighth plan includes loops to the north and south of the intersection to allow U-turns to make it easier for people coming from the Health and Human Services building or the golf course to get to the other side of the median.

The new concept approved by the county would take half of that alternative and create a U-turn loop to the south of the intersection. Drivers coming from the west could turn right onto Highway 71 and loop back to the north to go to the Health and Human Services building.

Vehicles going south from the county building would have to go on Civic Center Drive to get back to Willmar.

Danielson estimated the cost of the project at $300,000 and said it could be done next year if it received final approval.

Commissioner Richard Larson, of Willmar, said the plan would force more traffic onto Civic Center Drive, which is already busy with traffic to the high school. "It'll compound the city's problem," he said.

Commissioner Dennis Peterson said he liked the plan. "It's easy to get done and it's relatively cheap."

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said this plan wasn't a long-term fix but said the entities "can't afford to do nothing" and put more lives at risk.

"We don't have five to 10 years to sit on this," he said. It would take that amount of time to complete a long-term fix like building an overpass, he said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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