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Project aims to ease traffic congestion, improve safety in neighborhood north of Willmar

WILLMAR -- Many of the traffic concerns plaguing a quiet country neighborhood north of Willmar will be resolved this year with road improvements aimed at increased safety and better vehicle flow. Work will begin this spring to improve 41st Avenue...

WILLMAR - Many of the traffic concerns plaguing a quiet country neighborhood north of Willmar will be resolved this year with road improvements aimed at increased safety and better vehicle flow.

Work will begin this spring to improve 41st Avenue Northeast, connect the road with 48th Avenue and straighten it for better visibility.

It's a big step forward for Dovre Township, where township officials have been working for months to address some of the most pressing traffic needs.

"It will be beneficial to the residents," said Beth Johnston, a Dovre Township Board supervisor. "We've had a lot of support from the property owners that are affected."

Increased development and traffic have spurred concerns for the past several years, particularly in the Sunray area between Skataas Lake and U.S. Highway 71.

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When 41st Avenue was closed almost eight years ago to northbound traffic on Highway 71, car and truck traffic became notably more congested on 48th Avenue through what previously was a tranquil residential neighborhood.

Complaints rose substantially, Johnston said.

There were concerns about speed, about the number of commercial trucks on the street and the sheer volume of increased traffic, she said. "There's a point where it becomes the straw that breaks the camel's back."

In 2014 Dovre Township decided to partner with the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission to undertake a study of traffic and demographic patterns in the area.

The study identified multiple issues that needed to be addressed: increased external traffic through the neighborhood, poor internal traffic flow and lack of safe access to Highway 71/23. It listed concerns with bike and pedestrian safety. It noted there's an inadequate frontage road between 37th and 41st Avenues to provide access to the commercial properties along the road.

Johnston said the study gave the Dovre Township Board the data it needed to begin developing a long-term plan.

"It gave the board reassurance that we were hearing the facts," she said.

The road improvements slated to take place this year are meant to alleviate many of the issues cited in the study.

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The project will improve 41st Avenue Northeast and extend 18th Street to connect 41st and 48th Avenues. 41st Avenue also will be straightened and the grade increased to improve visibility where the road approaches Highway 71/23.

The hope is that once the project is complete, traffic will be directed away from residential areas, Johnston said. The extension of 18th Street, currently a dead-end road, also will improve commercial access to businesses along and near the highway.

With new surfacing, both 41st Avenue and 18th Street will be smoother and easier to drive on as well.

The project is the largest - and most expensive - ever undertaken by Dovre Township. At close to $700,000, the cost appeared prohibitive until the Minnesota Legislature appropriated $8.9 million in Local Road Improvement Program funds in 2015. The township applied last year for a grant under the program and was awarded $500,000.

Although the township still must fund about $200,000 of the project's cost, the Local Road Improvement Program grant was a significant factor in the ability to move forward, Johnston said. "The project couldn't have been done at this level without it," she said.

In the longer term, the township hopes to enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety with a plan for connecting local residents with the existing trail system in the area.

An important goal of the township board is for its long-range plan to mesh with the future plans of the Kandiyohi County Highway Department and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The upcoming road project was developed in close consultation with both agencies, Johnston said.

Township officials also want their long-range planning to be compatible with the city of Willmar. The area where this year's road construction will take place has been identified in the city's long-term land use plan as an urban growth area.

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