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Kandiyohi County Roadway Safety Plan identifies areas at high risk for fatal and severe crashes

The Kandiyohi County Roadway Safety Plan has been updated to identify county road segments, curves and intersections that are at risk for fatal or severe crashes. The plan also proposes low-cost and effective improvements for those high-priority areas.

Kandiyohi County Road 5 sign in Willmar
The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners heard a presentation during the March 21 board meeting on the updated Kandiyohi County Roadway Safety Plan. The plan, part of the state's Toward Zero Deaths initiative, looks at county roads for safety concerns and proposes low-cost but effective updates.
Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMAR β€” In 2021, 488 people died in vehicle crashes on Minnesota roads, with another 1,722 seriously injured. According to data from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, 39% of fatal or serious injury crashes occur on county roads, more than any other type of roadway.

"That is why we are here, focusing on your roadways," said Renae Kuehl, traffic safety engineer with SRF Consulting. Kuehl has been partnering with the county and MnDOT to update the County Roadway Safety Plan for Kandiyohi County. The plan focuses on segments, curves and intersections of county roads with safety concerns and recommends improvements that could help reduce the risk of crashes.

Kuehl and Mark Wagner, traffic safety engineer with MnDOT, attended the March 21 Kandiyohi County Board meeting, when the board was given a presentation on the update of the county's plan.

"Our goal here is to try and help make the roads safer, giving you ideas for safety improvements you can make to make the roads safer for your residents," Kuehl told the board Tuesday.

March 21 Kandiyohi County Board meeting.JPG
Renae Kuehl, SRF Consulting, speaks in front of the Kandiyohi County Board on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. She was sharing information about the update of the County Roadway Safety Plan.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

County Roadway Safety Plans were completed for all 87 counties by 2014, as part of the Toward Zero Deaths initiative to reduce fatal vehicle crashes in Minnesota.

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In 2003, when Toward Zero Deaths began, there were more than 650 crash deaths. The program's goal was to reduce deaths to 300 per year by 2020 and 225 deaths per year by 2025. While average crash deaths have never dipped below 358 in the last two decades, overall there has been a significant drop in deaths from the high of 657.

"If we had done nothing, that trend would have continued up to that 600, 700 people dying every year," Kuehl said. "We feel from the work that has been done, in various areas, especially the counties making improvements, we have saved over 4,000 lives in Minnesota over the last 20 years."

MnDOT started to update the original County Roadway Safety Plans in 2017 with Meeker, McLeod and Stearns counties part of the first phase of updates. Kandiyohi County, along with Lac qui Parle and Redwood counties, are part of Phase 2. Kuehl said Phase 3 will hopefully begin soon.

"We look for risk, we identify locations that are at risk, identify strategies," Kuehl said.

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In the update process, Kandiyohi County's roads were separated into 143 different rural segments. Each segment was examined for various crash risk factors including speed limit, traffic volume, access density, curve density and edges.

There were 68 segments across the county marked as high priority for safety improvements, nearly half of the total. The updated plan also identified 80 individual curves and 81 individual intersections on county roads as high priority.

The plan also looks at some urban county road segments, curves and intersections in areas where the population is more than 5,000 people. Marked as high priority in those areas were one urban segment, 12 vehicle intersections and one pedestrian/bike intersection.

"We are trying to be proactive, we are trying to think ahead," Kuehl said. "Predict where crashes could happen and put improvements in place before something happens."

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Safety strategies recommended for the high-priority road segments include adding more rumble strips, enhancing edge lines and using wet reflective paint. On high-priority intersections, the plan recommends additional lighting, LED stop signs and transverse rumble strips. For curves, more signs such as curve warning, speed advisory and chevron or arrow boards can make a difference.

"Chevrons are one of the most effective strategies, especially when we have cars going off the roads on curves," Kuehl said. "It is very inexpensive and very effective."

To help fund the proposed safety improvements, the county can apply for federal Highway Safety Improvement Program funds. Between 2008 and 2020, Kandiyohi County completed $1.6 million in Highway Safety Improvement Program projects. With an updated roadway safety plan, the county would be eligible for even more funding.

"The networks that have more problems get more money," Kuehl said.

Public Works Director Mel Odens said the county has already been adding some of the safety proposals to its road network, such as wet reflective paint and enhanced edge lines.

What the updated County Roadway Safety Plan shows is county roads can be more dangerous than interstates and highways, despite the higher speeds and traffic counts found on those state roads. The hope is the plan will also help travels be safer on those roads.

"It is imperative for drivers to pay more attention than they would on a state highway," said Commissioner Steve Gardner. "We have a lot more obstacles to go around."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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