Intersection will get new review

WILLMAR -- Short-term changes made to improve a dangerous intersection near the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building have apparently not worked.

WILLMAR -- Short-term changes made to improve a dangerous intersection near the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building have apparently not worked.

On Wednesday, the day after two more accidents were reported on Business Highway 71 near the county building, the Minnesota Department of Transportation said the traffic counts, accident records and options for altering the intersection need to be re-evaluated this winter. The intersection is used to access the county Law Enforcement Center, the Willmar Civic Center, the Willmar Senior High School, MinnWest Technology Campus, MnDOT offices and the county Health and Human Services building.

Jon Henslin, traffic engineer with the MnDOT District 8 office in Willmar, said "quick fixes" implemented in 2006 following a traffic audit have not been as effective as hoped.

Actually, the number of accidents may have increased on an average annual basis.

Using data from January of 2001 through December of 2005, an independent transportation audit consultant determined there were 17 accidents at that intersection, for an annual average of 3.4 accidents, Henslin said.


MnDOT, the city of Willmar and Kandiyohi County -- which all have jurisdiction over segments of the intersection -- implemented some of the consultant's short-term recommendations, including changing traffic signs and increasing the radius of the intersection.

It was hoped the minor changes would improve safety at the intersection, Henslin said, and eliminate pursuing more expensive options, like building an interchange or installing signal lights.

But on Wednesday, by accessing information from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Henslin discovered that in a 12-month period from Oct. 1, 2006, through September of 2007, there were five accidents reported at the intersection.

That exceeds the annual average number of accidents that occurred in the five-year study before the improvements were made.

"If I base it on one year, it doesn't look like there's been an improvement," Henslin said.

He said it is time for the different entities to regroup, re-examine the data and consider new safety options.

Henslin said he wants those meetings to be held in January or February so that officials can develop "a new plan of attack."

Mel Odens, the Willmar public works director, agreed it's time to look again at ways to change the intersection.


"It's not a good situation if there continues to be accidents," Odens said.

Odens said the clear lines of vision on the highway make it difficult to understand why the accidents are happening at the intersection. Equally difficult is finding ways to reduce accidents there.

He said driver error, more so than a road design flaw, may be the cause of most of the accidents.

Marilee Dorn, the crime prevention specialist with the Willmar Police Department who was part of the original team that reviewed safety options at the intersection, said that the "best solution" for that intersection may be a diamond interchange, but it would be the "most expensive" option.

Dorn said people speeding while going north and south on Business Highway 71, people not looking carefully enough when crossing the highway and the layout of the highway have contributed to accidents there. She also said construction of new vehicles that have wider door frames may also be hampering a driver's view.

Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl welcomed news of a MnDOT safety review and said he'd "be at the table" during the meetings. He said he wants to ensure that all safety measures, like flashing lights or no-passing zones, are considered for the intersection.

"We want to make sure all roads in Kandiyohi County are as safe as possible," he said.

One problem with making changes to the intersection, Henslin said, is finding money to pay for them.


Until something does change, Kleindl urges drivers to use more caution when approaching, or crossing, the intersection. "We don't want anybody to be hurt," he said.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
What To Read Next
Get Local