By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, MN After a pedestrian was hit at the intersection of Highway 12 and Wright County Road 6 (7th Avenue) in Howard Lake Jan. 13, some citizens are questioning the intersection’s safety.
Officials have been asking how to improve navigation, as well, and plans to address this began long before the fatal accident.
“The City of Howard Lake has identified downtown revitalization and specifically vehicle and pedestrian safety in downtown as a goal and priority for several years,” Howard Lake City Administrator Nick Haggenmiller noted.
In fall 2016, Howard Lake commissioned an analysis at three Highway 12 intersections County Road 7, County Road 6 North, and County Road 6 South measuring traffic volume, crash data, wait time, and pedestrian activity.
“Ultimately, the results indicated that no intersection controls such as stop lights, roundabouts, etc. were ‘warranted,’” Haggenmiller said.
The only intersection that came close to meeting MnDOT’s standards was County Road 6 south.
Haggenmiller noted that the crash data doesn’t take into account certain road conditions, or whether or not a driver was impaired.
Later in 2016, the City of Howard Lake applied for funding through the MnDOT Transportation Alternatives Program, seeking pedestrian safety elements such as signage at the intersections of Highway 12/County Road 6 North and County Road 6 South.
“This is a highly-competitive grant, and final funding awards have not yet been named,” Haggenmiller noted.
Over the last five years, Howard Lake has also been seeking financial assistance from Wright County to construct a sidewalk from downtown at County Road 6 North to Memorial Park and the Wright County fairgrounds.
Recently, the city approved a purchase agreement to acquire property that would advance this goal, and Wright County is also considering a financing mechanism to assist with the trail project.
According to Haggenmiller, the city has a purchase option for the property at the corner of County Road 6 South, with a proposed closing date of March 2017.
“The intentions of the city include demolishing the existing structure,” he noted. “At this time, any means of increasing vehicle and pedestrian safety on County Road 6 and Highway 12 will be considered as well.”
A coordinated effort
A vision for the future of Highway 12 began in 2011, when the Minnesota Design Team met with residents, business owners, and city leaders to identify areas of concern.
Howard Lake Police Chief Dave Thompson and Claudia Dumont of MnDOT both commented that the Highway 12/7th Avenue intersection is a concern due to poor visibility.
“As far as the city goes, it’s one of our most concerning if not the most concerning intersections,” Thompson said. “The line of sight is bad. . . If I’m stopped, facing northbound, I need to creep out to see around the Floor Value building.”
Dumont reminds drivers and pedestrians who are traveling on or near Highway 12 to “take their time,” “pay attention to their surroundings,” and “put down their cell phones.”
Thompson noted, “The police department participates in Towards Zero Deaths (TZD) extra enforcement waves on Highway 12 that target specific areas such as DWI, speed, and seatbelt enforcement, as well as distracted driving.”
In September 2016, Howard Lake police and MnDOT also coordinated a pedestrian safety awareness day for Highway 12.
“Motorists were educated on proper and legal crosswalk and pedestrian laws,” Haggenmiller said.
Resurfacing and more
In the upcoming years, MnDOT is planning to resurface Highway 12, and simultaneously incorporate “low-cost, high-benefit” projects for the communities of Cokato, Howard Lake, Waverly, and Montrose, according to Dumont.
“We’re starting in Cokato in 2019,” Dumont said, adding that MnDOT will be working with a consultant to identify local concerns in that community.
Howard Lake’s resurfacing is scheduled for 2021, followed by Waverly and Montrose.
“It’s best to do them individually, and tailor them to the community’s needs,” Dumont said.