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New signs will be installed at Business 71 intersection

WILLMAR -- Stop signs framed with flashing lights will be installed at an intersection on North Business Highway 71, where numerous ac-cidents have happened.

WILLMAR -- Stop signs framed with flashing lights will be installed at an intersection on North Business Highway 71, where numerous ac-cidents have happened.

It's hoped the attention-getting signs will warn drivers attempting to cross the four-lane highway to "look again" before driving across lanes of traffic moving at least 55 mph.

The short-term response to the problematic intersection will be implemented at the same time that a feasibility study will take place to explore long-term solutions.

Options for more permanent solutions include a roundabout, a diamond interchange or installing traffic signals -- which engineers don't like because statistics show they actually increase the number of accidents.

Another option that's definitely on the table is to close the intersection to crossover traffic to everyone except emergency vehicles. Doing that would require drivers to backtrack, use a city street or take different routes in some cases.

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During a meeting Friday morning, representatives from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the city of Willmar and Kandiyohi County agreed that action needs to be taken to stop the rash of accidents at the intersection, which is located near the entrance to the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building.

All three entities own segments of roads that meet at the intersection, making them partners in researching, implementing and funding a solution.

A decision will be made by everyone at the table, said Dave Trooien, MnDOT District 8 engineer. He said there must be a "partnership" to find and invest in a solution.

This isn't the first time the partners have met to discuss the intersection.

In May of 2006 they reviewed accident reports and agreed to implement five recommendations from a road safety audit, including installing larger traffic signs and increasing the radius of a turning lane.

Using data gleaned from accident reports, which included an accident this week at the intersection that involved a Kandiyohi Area Transit bus, it was determined the changes have not decreased the number of accidents there.

"We're not seeing the decreases we'd hoped for," said Jon Henslin, MnDOT traffic engineer.

Henslin mapped out the latest accidents on a drawing of the intersection that shows a majority of the crashes are happening in the northbound lanes of Business Highway 71 as traffic attempts to cross the four-lane highway from the east and west.

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The eastbound and westbound traffic has a stop sign at the intersection and a yield sign at the median.

Most of the accidents, however, involve an eastbound or westbound vehicle colliding in a T-bone accident with northbound or southbound traffic, with most happening in the northbound lanes.

"The people heading north aren't the problem," said Henslin.

Mel Odens, Willmar city engineer, said it appears that "driver error" is the main cause of the accidents.

In an attempt to decrease the accidents, it was decided that special traffic signs that are lit with light emitting diode lights -- more commonly called LED lights -- would be installed for the east- and westbound traffic. It's not certain if the signs will remain a combination of stop and yield signs, or if they will all be stop signs.

Henslin said the blinking lights are visible in the daytime and nighttime.

Kandiyohi County Public Works Director Gary Danielson said the county used unusual "look again" signs with goofy eyes to get the attention of drivers at the junction of County Roads 23 and 8 that worked well to decrease accidents at that trouble spot while a redesign of the intersection was developed.

"You've got to get them thinking about driving," Danielson said. The blinking traffic signs might be the "best bang for the buck," he said.

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Henslin said it will take time to research what kind of signs will work at the intersection and if a power source is necessary. It's possible solar-powered LED signs might be available. Finding money to purchase, install and operate the signs may also be an issue, Henslin said.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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