Three highway intersections slated for future change

County Engineer Bruce Cochran gave the Mille Lacs County Board a general update on roadway projects at a May 2 workshop.
A good deal of discussion took place around funding the Minnesota Department of Transportation has for intersection safety improvements along Highway 169 at county roads 11, 12 and 13. MnDOT conducted a study of intersection safety and then prioritized the intersections. It plans to implement “reduced-conflict intersections” in those locations in 2020.
The concept is used mostly on rural, divided highways and involves drivers always making a right turn followed by a U-turn, with no hard-angled turns. Drivers approaching a highway may not turn left or cross traffic; instead, they turn right onto the highway then go down to a designated median opening to make a U-turn.
The reduced-conflict intersections turns are gentle tapers instead of hard angles, and the strategy improves safety by reducing possible conflict points. Raised islands force right turns, and turn lanes allow for a wide, safe route.
He said a history of fatalities at those intersections prompts the action and that the reduced-conflict intersection efforts were all in the name of advocating for safety. Cochran said before MnDOT embarks on the design-bid-build projects, it will hold a public meeting where people can voice their concerns.
The County Board discussed the possibility of formally opposing the limited-access approaches because they’re likely to “kill” local business and increase crashes between slow-moving farm vehicles and fast-moving highway traffic. Cochran explained that as far as MnDOT sees it, the going down and around method is safer because a rear-end collision is typically not as fatal or damaging as a T-bone crash.
DOT Study
MnDOT published a study in October 2016 titled “A Study of the Traffic Safety at Reduced Conflict Intersections In Minnesota.” The document explains that the concept of reduced-conflict intersections aims to eliminate hard right-angle turns.
It implemented the first such intersection in 2010 in Willmar and since then has designed and constructed seven more such intersections. The study states that in those areas, there has been a 100 percent reduction in fatal and serious-injury, right-angle crashes; a 77 percent reduction in the severity of right-angle crashes; and a 50 percent reduction in injury crashes.
The study states that the reduced-conflict design is preferred on rural, divided, highways mainly because it increases safety. And when compared to other options such as an interchange for example, reduced-conflict intersections can be built faster and for less money.
First phase of two projects begins
The county has begun to figure out rights of way for improvement to a 5-mile stretch of County Road 4 between county roads 12 and 2, where there are about 80 parcels that touch the 5-mile project area. The road bed preparation work will be done this year and the improvements constructed next year.
It is nearly the same situation with improvements to County Road 101, which is slated for paving next year. The subgrade is in “terrible” condition and there are drainage challenges with flat terrain at the northern end of the project.