Dassel area curves and Meeker County to get safety measures

Aug. 25, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

The biggest cluster of high priority curves in Meeker County roads is south of Dassel and Darwin.

Drivers in the Dassel and Darwin area, and in the rest of Meeker County, will soon see some safety measures on 20 high priority curves by the county highway department, according to Meeker County Highway Engineer Ron Mortensen.

The recommended safety measures came after a review Tuesday of a road safety audit by Howard Preston of CH2M Hill, a consultant for the state’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, to the Meeker County Board of Commissioners. The county has an average of four fatal crashes a year, he said.

The 20 high priority curves will get enhanced delineation, and about a dozen county roads will get a white edgeline that is six inches wide, instead of the standard four inches wide, Mortensen said.

Preston estimated enhanced delineation, or markings, indicating a curve cost about $1,000 each curve. The recommended markings or signs have data proving they are effective. The most effective sign marking a curve, for example, is a series of chevrons pointing in the direction of the curve, he said.

A six-inch wide white edgeline is estimated to cost $300 a mile, Preston said.

Meeker County will compete with 11 other counties in the Willmar district to get a share of a $4 million grant for counties in the state to pay for the safety measures it is planning, Preston said.

The team of auditors reviewed every mile of the 272 miles of county state aid highways in the county, and 18 intersections.

The number one cause of fatalities in Minnesota is not using a seatbelt. The second biggest cause is alcohol. Both of those are driver behavior-based, so the state will focus on intersection crashes and single vehicle lane departure crashes, such as rollovers, the next two biggest causes of fatalities, Preston said.

The 50 high priority horizontal curves are scattered throughout the county, but they also are clustered along CSAH 15, 18 and 14, according to the report.

Strategies for preventing lane departure crashes on these curves include widening the white paint on the edge of the road or adding four-inch wide white paint to road edges that don’t already have it, improveing lane markings, paving shoulders, putting rumble stripes in shoulders, and adding safety wedges to the edge of the roads, Preston recommended.

Safety wedges cost the county nothing extra, he said. They are little slopes built into the edge of the bituminous when the road is paved. The contractor who paves the road puts a tool on the paver that shapes the road’s edge accordingly, Preston explained.

Safety wedges prevent the driver from losing control of the vehicle if a wheel goes off the edge of the road onto the shoulder, he added.

To prevent intersection crashes, Preston recommended lighting at intersections, larger stop signs on rural roads, and “stop ahead” paint on the road before an intersection.

Preston said the county has no “death corners” or “black spots,” where there are many accidents. However, many of the 50 high priority curves have visual traps. The road appears to be straight to the driver, but actually veers right or left, he said.

Chevron signs are most effective for curves and visual traps, Preston added. There is data proving that drivers react and slow down when they see chevron signs. Drivers also slow down when they see speed feedback signs, he said.

Drivers don’t slow down at all, however, for “children at play” signs, or static signs telling drivers to reduce their speed, Preston said.

Putting the white edgeline paint into the shoulder rumble strips is more effective than painting it directly on a flat road surface, Preston said. The rumble strip causes some of the paint to be on a vertical surface, so it can still reflect when the road is covered with rainwater. Also, snowplows can’t scrape all of the reflective beads from it, he added.

In other highway department business, the county board awarded the county’s liquid propane gas contract to Jack’s Oil of Eden Prairie for the lowest quote of $21,939.

The board also awarded the contract for the county’s pavement marking to the low bidder, Pavement Marking of Maple Lake, for $71,962.

Odds and ends

In other business, the county board:

• heard a report from Mark Matuska of the New Ulm office of the Department of Natural Resources on why the DNR declined to put its Meeker County Highway 24 bridge in the Greenleaf Recreation Area, southwest of Darwin.

A large bridge on the shore of Greenleaf Lake wouldn’t be “natural,” the recreation area’s comprehensive plan isn’t complete yet, its maintenance costs are not part of the recreation area’s budget, and the timing is bad. The placement of the bridge in Mower County is scheduled for 2009, the same time the bridge will be removed from its current location west of Kingston, he said.

• listened to a report from Social Services Director Clark Gustafson that the county collected $888,700 in child support for the second quarter of the year.

• purchased a Fusion for $13,200 from the state contract for the social services department.

• authorized reimbursing guardian and conservators for mileage using the federal rate of $0.585 per mile, with a $100-a-month cap.

• granted a temporary on-sale liquor license for a wine-tasting at a Dementia Care Foundation event in Darwin, Sunday, Sept. 14.

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