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Willmar City Council approves intersection agreement

A vehicle passes Monday through the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection. The Willmar City Council has approved a cooperative agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Kandiyohi County for construction of a proposed safety improvement at the site. Multiple accidents have occurred there the past few years. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council on Monday night approved a cooperative agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Kandiyohi County for construction of the proposed safety improvement at the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection.

The council's Public Works/Safety Committee had voted last week to recommend the council approve the agreement. The agreement calls for the city, the county and MnDOT to share equality in the cost of the improvement. The improvement is designed to reduce crashes at the intersection.

Total estimated cost of the project is $682,532. The city's share is $227,488, which will be paid by state aid funds and are included in the city's 2010 street improvement program, according to Holly Wilson, acting public works director.

The county's share is also $227,488 and MnDOT's share is slightly more at $227,556, according to the agreement. The agreement is scheduled to be considered this morning by the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

The project has been scheduled for bidding on Aug. 27 and the work will be completed by the end of October.

The improvement received the support of the council in April and the council also voted to share equally in the cost of the project with the county and MnDOT.

Some severe crashes, one of them fatal, during the past couple of years focused the attention of officials and the public on improving the intersection's safety.

The intersection does not have the greatest number of crashes in the city, according to police department statistics, but the crashes are more severe due to the high rate of speed of the vehicles involved. A consultant's analysis found a majority of the crashes involved northbound and eastbound traffic.

The intersection will be redesigned to provide indirect left turns in the median and a southern U-turn to accommodate eastbound traffic. The design is similar to a crash-reduction design constructed in 2008 on U.S. Highway 169 in the city of Belle Plaine, according to MnDOT.

Willmar's design is the result of about two years of study and discussion of safety improvements by the city, county and MnDOT.

During the council meeting, Mayor Les Heitke asked City Administrator Michael Schmit and Wilson if they had seen the intersection plans and he asked if the plan met their approval.

"We've seen the agreement, Mr. Mayor, and the construction drawings and it's what the city agreed to,'' said Schmit.

Heitke asked if the agreement includes street lights at the intersection. Heitke said MnDOT had agreed to provide the lights. The intersection has no lights now.

Wilson said the agreement does include lights.

Council member Ron Christianson asked Police Chief Dave Wyffels if any crashes have occurred at the intersection within the last 12 months. "It seems to have been pretty quiet out that side of town,'' Christianson said. "People are maybe being a little more cautious.''

Wyffels said he could not remember the exact date of the last crash. "You're right, it has been quiet out there,'' he said.

Council member Steve Ahmann pointed out the agreement obligates MnDOT to pay for monthly electrical service expense to operate the lights.

Also, Ahmann asked where the storm water sediment pond as provided in the agreement will be located. Otherwise, he said the agreement was fair and equitable to all parties.

Wilson said there will be a small pond at the north part of the intersection to help accommodate some of the storm water and regrading parts of the intersection.

Council member Doug Reese asked why MnDOT will be paying the monthly lighting costs at the intersection but the city pays for lighting costs on the bypass.

Schmit said he could not explain it, but suggested one of the state officials should be asked.

After the meeting, Heitke told the Tribune that the city hopes the plan improves the traffic flow at the site of so many tragic accidents.

"We're looking forward to the construction and we hope that the new design will be safe for all citizens and improve the safety of that intersection,'' he said.

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