CLARA CITY — The Minnesota Department of Transportation will consider changing the Minnesota Highway 23 and Highway 7 intersection in Clara City to an all-way stop to improve safety based on a recommendation from a newly completed analysis.
The possibility of changing the two-way stop to an all-way stop is among seven recommendations included in the study released Oct. 20. The recommendations come with an additional consideration urging MnDOT to consider the possibility of a roundabout in future years “if the severity of crashes increases above the critical rate in the future.”
The study by Stantec Consulting of Maple Plain looked at five preceding years of traffic and accident data at the intersection. It also included outreach to area businesses and officials and online survey responses.
The study found that there would be a crash reduction at the intersection by converting it from a two-way stop to an all-way stop, according to Cody Brand, traffic engineer with the MnDOT District 8 office in Willmar. The projection is based on data collected for the study and crash modification factors MnDOT uses.
If MnDOT implements the change to an all-way stop at the Clara City intersection, it would occur sometime between mid-spring to early summer in 2022, according to Brand. MnDOT would employ electronic message boards and take other measures to make motorists aware of the change. Implementing the change during the spring to summer time frame also allows motorists to be acclimated to it before the winter driving season.
The study’s other short-term recommendations include upgrading the existing, flashing red traffic beacons on stop signs for Highway 23 travelers to LED versions and looking at possible improvements to existing traffic signs and pavement markings in the area.
The study also recommends analyzing whether to maintain or remove the Rural Intersection Conflict Warning System at the intersection. That system uses technology to give motorists at rural intersections real-time warnings about traffic conditions. Signs with flashing lights and written messages advise drivers either of “Entering Traffic When Flashing" or “Traffic Approaching When Flashing.”
The study’s analysis of traffic at the intersection considered data from the prior five year-period during which no fatal accidents and 12 total accidents occurred. Three accidents occurred at the intersection in June and July, or just after the study was completed. Its authors recommend that MnDOT review analyses of these accidents when they are available.
MnDOT had improved the intersection in 2002 due to safety concerns. It realigned the intersection to eliminate a skew and added turn lanes. These changes were made to improve the sight lines at the intersection, Brand said.
The current study focused on safety and maintaining access to businesses in the area and reducing wait times at the intersection. It was launched after emergency personnel and elected officials in Chippewa County and Clara City asked for a safety study.
Clara City Mayor Gary Nelson said City Council members there have not yet had an opportunity to discuss the recommendations. He said city officials appreciated the work done by MnDOT and the fact that public input was gathered for it. “They listened to us,” he said.
Currently, Highway 23 carries the greater volume of traffic at the intersection but it is traffic on Highway 23 that is required to stop. The average annual daily traffic count shows Highway 23 carrying 4,650 vehicles north of the intersection and 3,300 south. Highway 7 carries 3,100 vehicles west of the intersection and 2,550 east.
The study found that current traffic volumes are sufficient eight hours a day to meet MnDOT warrant standards for an all-way stop. They are not sufficient to warrant installation of signal lights. The study projects an annual increase in traffic of 1% per year in the future. By 2040, the intersection would experience 12 hours a day with sufficient traffic to warrant all-way stops.
Roundabouts are warranted when either all-way stops or signal lights are, according to the study.
The study considered the possibilities of leaving the intersection as it is; installing all-way stop signs or signal lights; or building a roundabout. An earlier proposal to install a bridge on Highway 7 over the intersection was discussed but not considered for the study due to its projected costs.