Polk County commissioners vote against realigning dangerous intersectionCiting cost, Polk County commissioners Tuesday defeated the recommendation to make the county’s deadliest intersection safer.
By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald
CROOKSTON — Citing cost, Polk County commissioners Tuesday defeated the recommendation to make the county’s deadliest intersection safer.
The intersection of U.S. Highway 75 and Polk Highway 21, located between Euclid and Angus, has had 16 accidents and two fatalities in the past 10 years. It’s easily the county’s most dangerous intersection, even though traffic is less than many other places, highway engineer Rich Sanders said.
Fourteen of those 16 crashes are blamed on the angle at which the roads meet. The problem is that Polk Highway 21 does not intersect with U.S. Highway 75 at a 90-degree angle. For drivers traveling east or west, the 21-degree skew is enough to block their view of Highway 75 traffic.
The culprit is the A-pillar, the support structure between the windshield and side window. The A-pillar is wider on newer vehicles because it contains an air bag. Tests showed that drivers on Highway 21 can experience as much as an 11-second blind spot while looking to the right at the intersection.
A $1 million fix, recommended by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, would create a 90-degree intersection. Half the cost would be paid by the state and 40 percent by the federal government, leaving a $100,000 price tag for the county.
Commissioner Don Diedrich, whose district includes the intersection, said the decision was about more than just the county’s share. “In today’s world, it’s about money spent,” he said. “You have to justify spending because it’s still all taxpayers’ money. You have to start holding the line somewhere.”
Craig Buness of Crookston said he was wary of the precedent it might set: “How many other $1 million intersections are we going to be asked to do?”
Bill Montague of Crookston, the third vote to go with a less expensive plan, clearly was the most conflicted. “We made the decision and God help us if we’re wrong,” he said.
Warren Strandell of East Grand Forks was the lone commissioner to favor the more expensive plan. “I didn’t want to be haunted by the responsibility if (a fatality) happens again,” he said.
Board Chairman Warren Affeldt only votes if there’s a tie.
Instead of the intersection realignment, commissioners voted for a system of traffic-activated flashing lights. That work costs about $60,000, with the county covering half.
The vote came after a spirited debate with a clearly frustrated Sanders. The flashing lights option has been tried in two other counties and the result includes “more drivers rolling through the stop sign than before, which is more disconcerting. It could end up with worse fatalities than we have now.”
Sanders reminded commissioners that they agreed to spend more money to raise the Thompson Bridge to insure it would never get topped by the Red River. This project is also worth the added cost, he said.
Diedrich countered that the less expensive flashing lights option should be tried first.
Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.