CLARA CITY — The Minnesota Department of Transportation will soon be reaching out for public input as it looks at how to improve the intersection of state Highway 7 and Highway 23 at the south end of Clara City.
A study has been launched to look at how to improve safety as well as mobility at the intersection, Lindsey Bruer, planning director with the Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8 in Willmar, told members of the district’s Area Transportation Partnership on Friday.
Local MnDOT staff and consultants with Wenck Associates, of Maple Plain, recently met with representatives of Clara City, Chippewa County and the Highway 23 Coalition to discuss the study. The three local entities originally urged MnDOT to undertake the study.
The greater volume of traffic is on Highway 23, but traffic on Highway 23 is required to stop at the intersection while Highway 7 traffic flows at 45 miles per hour. Traffic counts from 2018 show an average daily traffic volume of 4,650 vehicles on Highway 23 north of the intersection, and 3,300 south of it. On Highway 7, the volume was 2,500 vehicles east of the intersection and 3,100 west of it.
Both highways are important corridors for moving freight in the region, and the traffic counts include many large trucks. The heavy commercial traffic on Highway 23 north of the intersection was 620 trucks per day and 520 to the south in 2018. On Highway 7, the count showed 500 heavy commercial vehicles west and 435 east of the intersection.
Emergency personnel in Clara City and Chippewa County had initially pressed for improvements due to severe accidents at the intersections and some changes were made. In the years 2010 to 2020, 21 crashes were recorded at the intersection, but fortunately, there were no fatalities or serious injuries.
Bruer said some preliminary proposals for improving the intersection have been discussed. One includes making it a four-way stop. Another proposal would require traffic on Highway 7 to stop rather than Highway 23. Other proposals include a roundabout or a quadrant design with a bridge to carry Highway 7 traffic.
There is not the volume of traffic needed to warrant traffic signals at the intersection. Developing an interchange at the site would be very expensive, in the range of $10 million to $20 million, according to MnDOT.
Bruer said MnDOT will be developing a web page for the project to allow public comment. She hopes to host meetings with stakeholders as public input is gathered. The goal is to have a recommendation ready this spring on how to improve the intersection.