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Proposed Highway 23 safety recommendations unveiled

The intersection for Minnesota Highway 23 and Highway 9 at New London pictured Tuesday is under consideration for a J-turn entering into New London. MnDOT presented a plan update Tuesday on the proposal to the Kandiyohi County Board. Photo / Jan Queenan

WILLMAR—After evaluating all the options, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is making a preliminary recommendation to construct a J-turn at the intersection of Highway 23 and Highway 9 at the entrance to New London.

MnDOT also plans to recommend the addition of turn lanes at Highway 23 and 153rd Avenue between New London and Nest Lake.

The proposed improvements are the outcome of an in-depth assessment aimed at improving safety at key busy intersections on Highway 23 between Spicer and New London.

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners received an update Tuesday on the assessment, which has been underway for almost six months.

The recommendations still need to be finalized, said Lindsey Bruer, MnDOT project manager.

One more open house is planned for the public on Oct. 3, she said.

The timetable calls for wrapping up the assessment this fall. That will be followed by more presentations to share the recommendations with elected officials and the public. After that, an implementation plan will be developed.

Throughout the course of the study, there have been plenty of opportunities for public engagement, from open houses to online input, Bruer said.

"We wanted to make sure we're reaching out to communities as part of this process," she said.

Although the study involves four intersections in all, the majority of the public's interest has been focused on the junction of Highways 23 and 9 on the east outskirts of New London.

The intersection is a busy one—and it's also unsafe. A safety review consisting of data from 2011 through 2015 found a total of 17 crashes. One was fatal and seven involved injuries.

J-turns, also known as reduced conflict intersections, aren't yet widespread in Minnesota. The closest example is the J-turn on North Business 71 at Kandiyohi County Road 24.

They help decrease the likelihood of broadside collisions by eliminating all but right-hand turns.

MnDOT looked at several alternatives, including a traffic roundabout, a wider median or traffic signals, but these were either too costly or not effective enough for the Highway 23 intersection at New London, Bruer said.

The traffic flow on this Highway 23 intersecton is primarily eastbound, she said. "We're thinking (the J-turns) will improve the traffic going eastbound (turn left) into New London."

Down the road, J-turns at this intersection also could help facilitate safety at County Road 40 where it crosses Highway 23, as well as open up opportunities for future development on both sides of the highway, Bruer said.

Safety improvements also may lie in store for two Highway 23 intersections farther south, at 153rd Avenue and at North Shore Drive.

Turn lanes, along with lighting to illuminate the intersection, have been proposed at 153rd Avenue.

The addition of lighting is proposed at North Shore Drive, along with landscaping to improve sight lines.

Maintaining traffic flow along Highway 23 was an important consideration, Bruer said. She noted that the highway is viewed as a key southwest-to-northwest corridor funneling traffic to St. Cloud.

Changes such as traffic lights or roundabouts would impede the smooth flow of traffic, she said. "It isn't the same vision for that corridor."

Once the priorities are identified and a long-term plan is developed, MnDOT can start the work of pursuing funds. Some of the money will likely come from the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program, which is designated for projects like the proposed safety improvements on Highway 23, Bruer said.

"That is what we would seek out for funding for a project like this," she said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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