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Favored plan for troubled intersection gets backing from the city

WILLMAR -- Belle Plaine's experience with crash-reducing safety improvements at a highway intersection has apparently convinced the Willmar City Council to support similar safety improvements at the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection.

The council voted 8-0 Monday to support the design improvements known as No. 3½ with the understanding that the city, Kandiyohi County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation will share equally in the estimated $363,210 construction cost and that MnDOT will coordinate the project.

Two weeks ago, the council voted 5-3 to reject the 3½ proposal, saying it was unsafe.

Last week, the council's Public Works/Safety Committee voted to recommend the council support 3½ after receiving information from MnDOT that showed the Belle Plaine design, which uses indirect left turns in the median, reduced overall crashes by 83 percent, cut multiple vehicle crashes by 91 percent and slashed injury crashes 89 percent during a 12-month period.

Willmar's proposed No. 3½ was so named because the design had the same indirect left turns as in a design called No. 3 but added the southern U-turn to accommodate eastbound traffic.

Jon Henslin, MnDOT district traffic engineer in Willmar, said the Belle Plaine data support the study of an outside traffic consultant hired by MnDOT, Willmar and Kandiyohi County of the Business 71 intersection. In a January 2009 presentation, the consultant predicted that a redesign would reduce crashes by 80 percent to 90 percent and injury crashes by 89 percent.

Henslin presented crash data and photos of the U.S. Highway 169 intersection with a county road at Belle Plaine that was designed and constructed in 2008 virtually the same as the recommended No. 3½ being proposed for Willmar.

Council member Doug Reese recommended the council move ahead with 3½ rather than discuss other options. "This is the best solution at this time,'' he said.

County Public Works Director Gary Danielson recommended moving ahead. "I feel this is the appropriate response to the issues we see out there,'' he said.

Council member Jim Dokken urged the speed limit be reduced and he asked how motorists will adjust to the new design.

Henslin said traffic control signs will be used. He said the speed limit at Belle Plaine is 55 mph. He said motorists were able to handle the change and he said "our people will be able to handle it, also.''

Denis Anderson said he thought 3½ was workable.

Rick Fagerlie said people need to pay attention to their driving.

Mayor Les Heitke said he thought street lights would be appropriate at the intersection. He said a roundabout would be the best design, but was aware of its more expensive cost.

In other business, the council authorized city staff to enter into discussions with the Willmar School District regarding the future of the Garfield School and the adjoining property. The city was informally approached to determine whether or not the city was interested in acquiring the property. The district's Area Learning Center is located at Garfield.

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