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Contemplation as City Council nixes solution at problematic intersection

Traffic approaches the stop sign Tuesday at the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection. Tribune photo Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- City officials are trying to arrange a meeting with Kandiyohi County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation now that the Willmar City Council voted not to support a county and MnDOT preferred alternative for reducing crashes at the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection.

The council Monday night defeated a motion supporting a proposed design alternative known as No. 3½ that MnDOT and the county feel is the best solution to reduce severe damage and injury from crashes at the intersection.

The 5-3 vote was taken during a 4-hour and 15-minute meeting. Council members voting against the motion were Jim Dokken, Rick Fagerlie, Bruce DeBlieck, Denis Anderson and Steve Ahmann. Council members voting in favor were Doug Reese, Ron Christianson and Tim Johnson.

Council members voting against the motion said the design of 3½ was dangerous and said it would move crashes elsewhere along the Business 71 corridor. Council members voting in favor said the council had to do something to reduce intersection crashes.

No. 3½ provides indirect left turns in the median for southbound traffic to go east on 23rd and northbound traffic to go west on County Road 24. The design blocks eastbound and westbound traffic from crossing Business 71 at the intersection. Eastbound traffic would have access to 23rd Street by driving south to a U-turn, heading north on 71 and then turning right onto 23rd.

Alternative No. 10 places a barrier at the intersection of 23rd Street and northbound Business 71. The barrier would block eastbound access to 23rd Street while still allowing eastbound traffic from County Road 24 to proceed north on Business 71. Motorists wishing to have access to 23rd Street would need to use other routes.

Support for a different alternative -- a roundabout -- was provided by Willmar resident Jerry Gesch. He said a roundabout would provide access to eastbound and westbound traffic and provide the best value for the money.

The roundabout was one of nine alternatives analyzed by a traffic consultant but was not recommended as the final alternative. Although the consultant said a roundabout would reduce crashes, the structure had a high cost.

The council vote Monday came during a report by the Public Works/Safety Committee. Committee Chairman Doug Reese reported that city staff met recently with county and MnDOT representatives to discuss an alternate known as No. 10.

No. 10 was designed by city staff as a result of public input received at a hearing in June 2009 on intersection alternatives. MnDOT and the county analyzed the proposal and continue to feel that alternate No. 3½ is the best solution. Both MnDOT and the county have preliminarily indicated they would not provide assistance to the proposed No. 10, according to the committee report.

Reese reported MnDOT is willing to design and bid No. 3½ with costs being split three ways by the city, council and state.

The committee discussed options last week and members agreed to send the intersection design issue to the full council for further discussion.

Reese offered a motion, seconded by Christianson, to endorse No. 3½.

In an interview Tuesday morning, Reese said he thinks something should be done as soon as possible.

"If we wait now, we're going to be at least a year down the road. There was no indication from anybody what they wanted to do,'' Reese said.

"I probably have to talk to staff. Maybe they're going to have to have some additional discussions with the state and county. I'm not sure they're open to any other alternatives, the way it sounded to me. I don't think it makes sense to leave it just sit there and not do anything,'' he said.

DeBlieck said council members are not traffic engineers, but he said 3½ would create more conflicts at the U-turn. The public indicated during a hearing in June 2009 that they did not like 3½ because it would close the median, according to DeBlieck.

"That's when we developed 10, based on that discussion with the public at that time,'' he said. "That's one of the major issues with the public.''

City Administrator Michael Schmit said Tuesday an attempt was being made to arrange a meeting as soon as possible with the county and MnDOT and develop a plan of action to see what options are available. He said doing something this year is probably in jeopardy, due to the time involved for planning.

"We'll sit down with the county and the state and see what kind of ideas we can come with,'' he said.

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