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Study finds busy Montevideo, Minnesota, intersection has safety needs but signals not warranted

An intersection control evaluation on the intersection of Minnesota Highway 7 and Chippewa County Road 15/24th Street in Montevideo found a need for safety improvements, but not enough to warrant installing signal lights.

Westbound traffic approaches the intersection of Minnesota Highway 7 and Chippewa County Road 15/24th Street on the east side of Montevideo in this April 25, 2022, photo.
Westbound traffic reaching Montevideo approaches the intersection of Minnesota Highway 7 and Chippewa County Road 15/24th Street on the east side of the community in this April 25, 2022, photo. A recent study of the intersection found a need for safety improvements but not enough to warrant installing signal lights.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
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MONTEVIDEO — A study of a busy intersection where a hiking and bike trail, Minnesota Highway 7, and Chippewa County Road 15 and Montevideo’s 24th Street meet on the east side of Montevideo found a need for safety improvements, but not enough to justify installing signal lights or constructing a roundabout.

“Right now we’re not proposing any changes to the intersection as far as intersection control goes,” said Cody Brand, traffic control engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s District 8 office in Willmar. Brand outlined the study — completed for MnDOT, the city of Montevideo and Chippewa County — to elected officials from the two entities and members of the public Monday evening in Montevideo.

The intersection control evaluation by Stantec Engineering found that traffic volumes and the accident history at the intersection, as well as other information, did not produce the warrants needed.

Currently, there is a 45-mph speed limit, and cross traffic on County Road 15/24th Street has stop signs at the intersection. Brand said the study found that making it a four-way stop would cause an overall increase in traffic delays, and consequently was rejected by MnDOT. A four-way stop would also likely cause a slight increase in crashes, he added.

MnDOT supports installing what is known as a pedestrian hybrid beacon at the intersection to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, according to Brand. The systems include flashing lights activated by push buttons to alert motorists when pedestrians or bicyclists are attempting to cross.

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The systems range in cost from $75,000 to $100,000. The cost would be the responsibility of the county and/or city, according to Brand. MnDOT could assist with some of the costs associated with the system if it were installed when an overlay project is slated for the highway there in 2027.

Intersect Hwy 7 CR 15 DSC_0007.JPG
Pedestrians and bicyclists have expressed concerns about crossing the intersection of Minnesota Highway 7 and Chippewa County Road 15/24th Street on the east side of Montevideo. A popular, paved hiking and biking trail connects Montevideo to Wegdahl and continues across the intersection.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Based on data collected in September 2021, the intersection study found that around 7,000 vehicles per day enter the intersection on Highway 7, and nearly 3,000 vehicles enter it daily from County Road 15 and 24th Street. The Highway 7 total is 1,000 vehicles short of what would warrant signal lights, while the cross traffic is about 500 vehicles short of what is needed. The study projects that the intersection will meet the needed traffic numbers for signals in 2033.

There have been seven crashes in the intersection in the past five years. Three involved minor injuries, one included an injury requiring hospitalization, and three were property damage only.

The intersection has an accident rate of 0.44 per million vehicles, according to the study. It has a “critical index” of 1.4, based on a formula for comparing its volumes and accident rate. A critical index over 1.0 is the threshold for identifying a safety need.

“(We) do identify there is a safety need, but there are other intersections we have to prioritize over this where there are higher needs,” said Brand.

He was asked whether MnDOT would assess the safety needs differently if the intersection had experienced serious injury or fatal accidents.

“Serious injury and fatalities do have a larger impact on when we put in safety improvements,” Brand said in response. “We do have intersections where we have multiple fatalities in a year and we are struggling to come up with the funding to improve those,” he said.

There are currently 90 intersections in the counties served by District 8 with a 1.0 or greater critical index, and 40 of them have a 1.4 index like the Montevideo intersection. The funds are not available to address all of them, he said.

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Intersect Hwy 7 CR 15
A busy intersection located on the east side of Montevideo has safety needs, but an evaluation found it does not warrant signal lights. Minnesota Highway 7, Chippewa County Road 15/24th Street, plus a hiking and bike trail meet at the location.
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Increasing traffic volume

Traffic volumes are increasing at the intersection and will very likely meet the thresholds where signals are warranted sooner than the study projects, according to David Lieser, Chippewa County Board chair, and Nathan Schmidt, Montevideo City Council president. They pointed out that the intersection is near the Montevideo Veterans Home that will be opening this year and employing a large workforce. A large apartment complex just opened a few blocks away.

The intersection is also seeing rising traffic volumes due to commercial and other residential growth on the city’s east side. The intersection also serves the Jennie-O Turkey Store further processing plant and retail sites, including Walmart and Runnings.

In response to questions, Brand said MnDOT does not support lowering the speed limit at the intersection or installing painted crosswalks. Multiple studies show that motorists will ignore lower speed limits if they don’t meet their expectations for an area, he said.

Lowering speed limits can actually lead to an increase in average speeds in some cases, the studies have shown. A lower speed limit could also increase accidents. Some motorists will abide by the lower speed, and others will not, increasing the speed differential between vehicles. This increases the likelihood for misjudgments by cross traffic motorists, Brand said.

The engineer also said that, statewide, average speeds have gone up by three to four miles per hour. The COVID-19 pandemic, changes in enforcement and mentality in how people view regulations are believed to be the causes.

Brand also cited concerns that crosswalks may increase risks for pedestrians by giving them a false sense of safety at the intersection.

Intersect Hwy 7 CR 15 DSC_0003.JPG
The vehicle at left enters Chippewa County Road 15 after turning off Minnesota Highway 7 while a second vehicle waits to make a right turn on Highway 7 from County Road 15 at the intersection on Montevideo's east side on April 25, 2022. Concerns for pedestrian and traffic safety led the city of Montevideo, Chippewa County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation to fund an Intersection Control Evaluation of the intersection.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Installing signals at the intersection would cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million. A roundabout could carry a $3 million price tag.

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At the meeting's end, city and county officials said they would continue to monitor traffic volumes at the intersection.

Mn/DOT webpage on study

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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