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Commissioners delay decision on troubled intersection

This map shows a plan to reroute traffic around Willmar's troubled intersection in an effort to decrease accidents there. An average of six accidents occur annually at the intersection.

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Commissioners said they want more time to digest options for altering a busy Willmar intersection that's been the site of a higher-than-average number of accidents.

At its meeting Tuesday the County Board of Commissioners delayed taking action to proceed with preliminary designs of a construction plan.

Because of tight construction schedules, work on the intersection won't be undertaken until 2010, said Kandiyohi County Public Works Director Gary Danielson.

Given that timeline, Commissioner Richard Falk said the board members should take a couple weeks to review the alternatives, including the preferred option that was identified during a meeting last week of the Willmar Public Works/Safety Committee.

At the request of the city, county and Minnesota Department of Transportation, a consultant studied the crash-plagued intersection and developed nine alternatives that could make the intersection safer.

Located near the county's Health and Human Services building at Business 71, County Road 24 and Trunk Highway 292, which is also known as 23rd Street, the unusual intersection has a past history of averaging six accidents a year.

The intersection, which is owned by the three different government entities, includes a median that takes traffic east and west across four lanes of traffic. That's where most of the accidents happen, Danielson said.

The preferred alternative includes closing the median to cross traffic going east and west across Business 71. Emergency vehicles would still be able to cross the median.

For northbound traffic intending to go west to the golf course, a new turning lane would be developed that would angle off Business 71, allowing vehicles to cross just two lanes of traffic.

A similar turning lane would be developed for southbound traffic intending to go east to the Health and Human Services building.

Drivers that want to return to Willmar from the Health and Human Services building would not be able to shoot across the median and head south back downtown. Drivers would likely take 23rd Street and Civic Center Drive.

The cost of the plan is $173,000 and has expectations of an accident rate of about one a year. The low cost of the design and promise of decreased accidents were selling points for the plan.

If the design didn't allow traffic to flow well, Danielson said an additional loop could be built that would create U-turns on Business 71.

The commissioners also directed Danielson to send a formal request to MnDOT to consider lowering the speed on Business 71 as a way to reduce accidents.

County Attorney Boyd Beccue said MnDOT has "adamantly refused" to consider speed reduction.

MnDOT "thinks this has to be a racetrack," said Beccue, who is a frequent traveler on that stretch of road.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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