Grand Forks copes with high traffic volume but solution years away
Despite growth and increasing traffic across North Dakota, the busiest regular four-way intersection in the state remains in Grand Forks.
With traffic counts between 20,000 and 31,000 in different directions, the intersection of DeMers Avenue and Washington Street is the state’s busiest intersection where two two-way roads cross without ramps or other junctures, said Earl Haugen, who heads the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization.
His calculation is based on 2012 and 2013 traffic counts collected by the state Department of Transportation.
“Some people feel the intersection has been a chronically low level of service that we’ve all come to accept,” he said.
DeMers-Washington used to be considered one of North Dakota’s top 50 intersections with the most car accidents, and it is no longer on that list, said Jane Williams, city traffic engineer. But she guessed that it may have just been pushed down the list because of increased car accidents in other parts of the state.
More detailed information from the state was not immediately available Wednesday.
According to Haugen, the MPO has a solution to the DeMers-Washington problem that involves allowing drivers turning right to take a separate route before entering the intersection, decreasing cross-traffic. But that solution depends on funding.
Really the busiest?
With Fargo and Bismarck having larger populations and traffic increasing in the Oil Patch, it may be hard to believe the busiest intersection of this type would still be in Grand Forks.
But Haugen said a combination of factors keeps the DeMers-Washington intersection busy.
One reason is that Fargo and Bismarck have Interstate 94 running east and west, alleviating that traffic from the east-west roads in regular intersections.
“The traffic volumes through Fargo on the interstate are just ridiculous, we don’t have anything that could compare,” Haugen said. “What’s unique about DeMers and Washington is you have high traffic in all directions,” he said, partly because there isn’t an east-west highway to take traffic from DeMers Avenue.
Fargo and Bismarck are also designed with some one-way streets that serve as major corridors through town, and Grand Forks does not have that, so traffic at the major intersections builds up in all directions, he said.
According to NDDOT’s traffic counts, Washington Street has an average of 24,780 cars heading south each day and 30,810 heading north. DeMers Avenue has an average of 20,470 cars heading east each day and 23,310 heading west. That’s a total of 99,370.
Some of the state’s other major intersections may have more traffic in some directions, but Haugen reiterated that DeMers and Washington has the highest traffic volume when considering all directions.
For example, the busy intersection of 13th Avenue South and 45th Street in Fargo has an average of 21,885 cars each day heading east on 13th Avenue and 24,055 heading west, with 20,035 cars heading south on 45th Street and 26,780 heading north, according to NDDOT. That’s a total of 92,755.
The intersection of 13th Avenue South and 42nd Street in Fargo has an average of 25,170 cars heading east on 13th Avenue and 27,480 heading west, but only 10,470 cars heading south on 42nd and 15,705 heading north, according to NDDOT. That’s a total of 78,825.
Solution for GF
Grand Forks city officials are aware of the problems at DeMers and Washington, but when and if the intersection is changed largely depends on funding.
“If the traffic continues the way it is, we’ll have to do some sort of improvement there,” said Williams said.
The MPO’s solution is to turn the intersection into a “continuous flow intersection,” which would provide an outlet to pull westbound DeMers traffic onto South Washington Street before DeMers actually intersects Washington at the stoplight, making it easier for drivers to turn onto South Washington, Haugen said.
The opposite would happen to eastbound DeMers traffic, redirecting those who want to connect to North Washington before the roads actually intersect at the stoplight, he said.
For example, in the continuous flow intersection, someone traveling from downtown on DeMers could have the option of turning onto South Washington before they pass the fire station on DeMers, which would lessen the traffic at the actual four-way intersection of DeMers and Washington, Haugen said.
While the MPO has this plan in its January 2012 Washington corridor study, the continuous flow intersection probably will not happen for several years, because of funding and other higher-priority projects, Haugen said.
“Much of it is funding-based,” Williams said.
The MPO is also making repair projects a priority before new projects, Haugen said, so the Washington underpass will have to be completed first. He hopes to see it done by 2020, he said, but that depends on funding.
Haugen said he wants the DeMers-Washington intersection to be of higher priority, but there are only so many projects the city can address at once.
“Our continuous flow intersection is a pretty good solution to a chronic problem,” he said, but “I wouldn’t expect it (to be built) within the next five years.”