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Editorial: Council should reject the 3.5 option

The Public Works/Safety Committee of the Willmar City Council made no recommendation this week on the proposed option 3.5 solution to reduce accidents at the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection. This was a good move.

The City Council should go a step further and reject the proposed option 3.5 solution. This solution would do four basic things:

- Close the intersection to all cross traffic across Highway 71, except for emergency and law enforcement vehicles.

- Create a left-turn lane for northbound Highway 71 traffic turning onto County Road 24 (golf course road) and a left-turn lane for southbound Highway 71 traffic turning onto 23rd St. Northeast (Law Enforcement Center and Health and Human Service building area).

- Require eastbound County 24 traffic seeking to head north to travel south on Business 71 for a short distance, then take a special U-turn lane to turn around and go northbound on Business 71.

- Require traffic from county or LEC buildings returning to Willmar to travel east on 23rd Street Northeast to Civic Center Drive; then west to Civic Center Drive/Business 71 intersection and then south to downtown Willmar.

While the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Kandiyohi County Board are supporting the option 3.5 plan, we believe this option only solves the problem temporarily and may in fact create additional problems elsewhere in this Business 71 corridor. It appears they are pursuing one of the least costly alternatives with a quick-fix goal in mind, instead of thinking about the best solution for the long-term future of Willmar and the Business 71 corridor.

The proposed 3.5 option is a poor solution for many reasons.

- The 3.5 option solution still does not solve the basic high-speed dangers and poor sightline views surrounding this problem intersection.

- The proposed U-turn lane on Business 71 seems to be the creation of another problem, as it would compete with northbound traffic moving to the left-turn lane to County Road 24.

- The residential growth in coming decades is expected to occur west of the Country Club Drive area and around County Road 24 as well as in the Ridgewater College and Eagle Ridge areas. This will also increase traffic in the intersection.

- The likely location of the proposed veteran's home in Willmar is northwest of this problem intersection. This would increase traffic in the area.

nIf the state of Minnesota moves to a regional courthouse system in the future, Willmar is an expected location, which would require a new regional courthouse with a likely site near the LEC. This would increase traffic again in this intersection.

- If option 3.5 is built, traffic in the LEC-county building area would be routed via 23rd Street Northeast to Civic Center Drive. This would increase traffic at both the 23rd St. Northeast-Civic Center Drive Northeast intersection and the Civic Center Drive Northeast-Business 71 intersection, both of which are on a primary route to the Willmar High School area.

- If option 3.5 is built, traffic in the LEC-county building area may seek out a short cut through the MinnWest Technology Campus via Technology Drive. This would create new traffic problems on this campus.

The city of Willmar should reject the option 3.5 and ask MnDOT and Kandiyohi County to go back to the drawing board to consider other options, such as:

- Straightening out the roadway slightly and evening out the roadway elevation lines to improve sightlines throughout this problem intersection.

- Build an underpass under Business 71 to connect County Road 24 and 23rd Street Northeast.

- Consider a major roundabout solution for this intersection.

- Reduce the speed limit in the area and reconsider stoplights at this intersection.

The proposed 3.5 solution is not the answer.

We believe the best solution -- both for economical and safety reasons -- for the best long-term future of north Willmar may be a possible underpass solution under Business Highway 71 for east-west traffic.