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MnDOT, county officials want more information on solution for troubled intersection in north Willmar

WILLMAR -- Officials of the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Kandiyohi County say they want further evaluation of Willmar's proposed safety improvement at the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection.

MnDOT is unable to issue a permit to construct the city's proposal or participate in financing that solution without further evaluation, wrote District Engineer David Trooien in a July 29 letter to City Administrator Michael Schmit.

Trooien was responding to a July 14 letter from Schmit, who notified MnDOT and county officials of the City Council's early July decision to approve an intersection design that would limit traffic into and out of the area of the Law Enforcement Center and the County Health and Human Services Building.

Schmit wrote that the city appreciates the cooperation of the county and state to find a reasonable solution to intersection traffic concerns. Schmit said consensus may be difficult to reach when three governmental units, elected officials, administrators and engineers are involved in the decision-making process.

However, he said the city desires to move forward with its design, known as No. 10, and is requesting MnDOT and the county continue to share in the three-way cost formula.

The council is supporting a citizen-suggested proposal for reducing crashes by closing the 23rd Street Northeast leg of the intersection. The proposal would also close the left-turn lane on the southbound side of Business 71, preventing motorists from turning east.

Motorists would have limited access to 23rd Street off northbound Business 71 via an exit ramp, and would have limited access from 23rd Street onto northbound Business 71 via an entrance ramp.

The city's proposal is different from a modified design favored by MnDOT and the county, known at No. 3½, which would allow for indirect left turns for northbound and southbound traffic, but would prohibit east-west traffic from crossing the four-lane highway.

The indirect left-turn design would provide visibility to left-turning motorists through their windshield of oncoming traffic rather than out their side window, which may be obscured by the vehicle's side post.

Trooien said the city, county and state all participated in an intersection feasibility report conducted by CH2M Hill, a highly reputable traffic engineering consultant. The report evaluated nine options based on traffic operations, travel time considerations, crash characteristics, access changes, right-of-way impacts, pedestrian and bicycle considerations, construction cost estimates, implementation schedule and overall feasibility.

The report recommended three options, and city, county and MnDOT engineering and administrative staff agreed to modify option No. 3 to allow indirect left turns, based on comments made at a public meeting and by engineering and administrative staffs.

Trooien said access, safety and feasibility issues need further clarification. He said MnDOT believes that proceeding with the city's proposal without further evaluation would be irresponsible, and he said the proposal should be evaluated with the same criteria as those options previously presented.

He also said MnDOT is not able to issue a permit to construct the city's proposal or participate in financing without further evaluation.

Trooien's comments were echoed by Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl. He agreed that more information was needed to properly evaluate the proposal. Once that occurs, the county can address whether it will support the city's proposal.

As it stands now, Kleindl said, the No. 3½ option appears to be a better solution to the intersection's safety and access problems.

The status of the intersection and correspondence were reported to the City Council Monday night by Doug Reese, chairman of the Public Works/Safety Committee.

Reese reported the city is moving ahead with design work and expects to meet again with MnDOT and county officials.

Although some severe crashes -- including a few of them fatal -- have focused the attention of officials and the public on safety improvements at Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast, a police department analysis of 18 months of crash data indicated the intersection did not have the most crashes.

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