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Should Willmar's Second Street Southeast be a one-way? Residents to share opinions at special meeting

Residents on Second Street Southeast in Willmar and surrounding areas will be able to voice their opinions on whether or not the street should be a one-way once reconstruction is complete. A special meeting is scheduled 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22, to take comments.

A woman walks across Second Street Southeast following a brief rain in downtown Willmar on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022.
A woman walks across Second Street Southeast following a brief rain in downtown Willmar on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — A special public meeting will take place for residents of Second Street Southeast in Willmar and surrounding areas to voice their concerns and/or opinions regarding whether or not to make the street a one-way street when the reconstruction of the street is complete.

The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22, in the community room at the Willmar Fire Hall.

During a special work session of the Willmar City Council on Aug. 8, council members Julie Asmus and Audrey Nelsen shared their recollections of the discussions that took place when plans were being made to reconstruct Second Street.

Asmus recalled that there were discussions regarding turning it into a one-way, but said a final decision was never made.

Nelsen, on the other hand, recalled that it had been decided to make the rebuilt street a one-way.

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“I do not believe our previous engineer would have gone on the radio and said that,” Nelsen said, noting discussions included how the change would affect public works, public safety and things like garbage removal. “That’s what I’ve heard from residents who seem frustrated, because that’s how they felt the message was carried to them.”

She added that she thinks turning Second Street Southeast into a one-way would be safer for those who are biking or walking.

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Mayor Marv Calvin noted that ultimately it is a council decision whether or not to turn Second Street Southeast into a one-way street, adding that some of the frustration that he is hearing is how things have gotten this far along with no decision being made.

During the work session, Public Works Director Gary Manzer presented the pros and cons of making Second Street Southeast a one-way street.

Currently, Willmar has only one one-way street — which is about 80 feet long along Benson Avenue Southwest between Sixth Street and Fifth Street Southwest.

It was noted on the graphic that “this change from driver expectation may lead to confusion and low compliance. Conversion to one-way traffic should be properly studied and evaluated before implementing.”

Typically, one-way streets are found more often in business areas rather than residential areas, Manzer said.

“I personally don’t see great advantages to what we do as a street department or public works as far as maintenance of it,” Manzer said, noting it would cause slight adjustments to how snow was removed in the area.

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Adding that Second Street Southeast is a narrow street, he said turning it into a one-way will not change anything about public works having to navigate around cars while plowing snow.

Manzer said he consulted with Jared Voge, city engineer from Bolton & Menk, about the possibility of increased speeds on one-way streets as drivers feel "a false sense of security" when not meeting vehicles going the opposite direction.

"Jared said he looked into that, and that typically is the case,” Manzer said.

Manzer confirmed that turning Second Street Southeast into a one-way street was discussed during the planning of the reconstruction, and that people were expecting it to be turned into a one-way.

“ ... I know it’s not a popular answer with maybe some people that are on the street, but I think the right thing is to leave it the way it is unless you plan on looking at it further,” Manzer said. “The other complaint I see coming out of this is if Second Street turns into a one-way, does the other traffic that then needs to go the other way go to Third Street or does that traffic go to First Street?”

Manzer said he he has already fielded complaints about the increase in traffic on Third Street Southeast due to the construction on Second Street.

Mayor Marv Calvin asked Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt and Willmar Fire Chief Frank Hanson their insights about the possibility of changing Second Street Southeast into a one-way, noting there are already problems on the only one-way street in town with people traveling the wrong way.
Felt agreed that there are problems with the current one-way street in town, which has been there as long as he’s been alive. He felt that it would create traffic confusion to now turn Second Street Southeast into a one-way street, which would push more traffic onto either Third or First streets.

In addition, if people chose to use First Street to travel south, they cannot turn left onto Augusta Avenue Southeast — but people still do — causing numerous traffic issues, Felt said.

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He opined that it would be best to leave Second Street a two-way street.

Noting that navigating fire equipment down narrow streets that allow parking is always a challenge, Hanson agreed that Second Street Southeast should remain a two-way street.

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Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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