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TOO MUCH TRAFFIC?: Intersection in EGF ranked most dangerous in northwest Minnesota

When it comes to intersections with traffic signals, East Grand Forks has the most dangerous one in northwest Minnesota. The intersection of U.S. Highway 2 and Minnesota Highway 220 has been designated most hazardous by the Minnesota Department o...

Most dangerous intersections

When it comes to intersections with traffic signals, East Grand Forks has the most dangerous one in northwest Minnesota.

The intersection of U.S. Highway 2 and Minnesota Highway 220 has been designated most hazardous by the Minnesota Department of Transportation based on a formula that uses both the severity and frequency of accidents.

Frequency is the bigger reason for the dubious ranking because the intersection did not have any fatalities from 2007 to 2009, the three years of accident incidents that determined the designation.

"We've been looking at this intersection for quite a while because it's near the top of the list for total crashes," said Bill Pirkl, DOT district traffic engineer.

"It's low as far as severity of injuries, but there have been a lot of property loss damages. Mostly, the accidents have been rear-end collisions happening in the right-turn lanes."

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The only cure, adding another lane, isn't likely because it wouldn't meet the cost-benefit standard.

"It would take more severe crashes, with life-altering injuries, to get justification dollar-wise," Pirkl said. "As callous as it might sound, a higher dollar value is assigned to more serious injuries."

High traffic is culprit

East Grand Forks Police Chief Mike Hedlund is not surprised at the intersection's designation.

"It's a busy place with two major roads, with almost as much traffic as the intersection of Washington Street and DeMers Avenue in Grand Forks," Hedlund said. "And you have two lanes going all four directions at higher speeds, especially from the east on Highway 2.

"But I don't think it's that dangerous per-vehicle."

With an average daily traffic of 20,000 vehicles, the EGF intersection is the third-busiest in the 11-county region, behind only intersections in Bemidji and Park Rapids. It's especially busy when the bridges other than the Kennedy are closed during flooding.

"The way the intersection is designed is safe," Hedlund said. "There are no severe obstructions of a view in any direction. There's just a lot of traffic."

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Truly dangerous

Pirkl said he wouldn't necessarily characterize the East Grand Forks intersection as dangerous. But he has no reservations about putting that label on the intersection of U.S. Highway 75 and Polk County Highway 21 that is located just north of Euclid.

That intersection has had 16 crashes and two deaths in the past 10 years, but does not make the dangerous rankings because the vast majority of those incidents have fallen outside the three-year window.

"Not only do we have a distinct pattern of crashes there, but we actually know the reason for them," Pirkl said. "It's a rarity when you know the exact reason for accidents."

Fourteen of the 16 crashes are blamed on the angle at which the roads meet. Highway 75 and Highway 21 don't intersect at a 90-degree angle. Drivers traveling east or west have a blocked view of Highway 75 traffic.

The culprit is the A-pillar, the support structure between a vehicle's 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.

But the Polk County Board of Commissioners nixed the fix recommended by the DOT and its county highway engineer and instead went with a less expensive option.

"I don't want to get into the politics of their decision," Pirkl said. "The board didn't want to spend the amount of dollars it would take."

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Solutions for some, not all

Northwest Minnesota's most dangerous intersection without traffic signals is where U.S. Highway 2 and State Highway 89 meet at Wilton, just west of Bemidji.

The DOT has made several changes without eliminating the problem and is now contemplating more dramatic measures, one being an interchange where Highway 89 would go over the top of Highway 2.

"It's been a tough one to put a finger on," Birkl said. "But, very rarely do we have a smoking-gun fix."

A downtown Crookston intersection also is on the list, largely because a female pedestrian was struck and killed by a semitrailer in 2008. The DOT fix was safeguards that included creating better visibility at the intersection.

In the three reporting years, the northwest corner district has had 33 traffic fatalities, nine of them coming at intersections. No intersection has had more than one death.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send email to rbakken@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
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