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Where are Minnesota’s most crash-prone intersections?

map of most dnagerous intersections

MnDOT provided MinnPost with a list of the worst 20 across the state based on data collected from 2006 to 2010.

Last year, there were 368 traffic deaths in Minnesota. That's the lowest number since 1944 when there were many fewer people and many fewer drivers. This year, the state may be headed toward a new record because as of mid-June, just 120 people had died in traffic accidents.

That welcome trend, however, doesn't excuse us from trying to do better. The loss of 368 people is nothing to dismiss. And, according to the state Department of Public Safety, in the total of 71,117 crashes, nearly 31,000 people sustained injuries, 1,159 categorized as "life-altering." Economic damage ran to nearly $1.5 billion.

Lars Impola, traffic studies engineer for the Metro Division of the Minnesota Department of Transportation or MnDOT, estimates that about a quarter of fatalities occur at busy intersections, "often where people are trying to run a red light."Re-engineering an intersection to overcome human nature isn't always easy.”

Where are these accident-prone spots? MnDOT provided MinnPost with a list of the worst 20 across the state based on data collected from 2006 to 2010, the most recent available for this analysis. The rankings weighted accidents according to their severity. Those involving fatalities, for example, received 70 points, those with property damage one point. 

At the top of the list is a site in St. Cloud, at the south junction of Hwy. 23 and Minnesota 15.

Jim Erkel, director of the Land Use and Transportation Program at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, expects that when MnDOT compiles its list incorporating 2011 data, the current No. 13, the junction of Hwy. 52 and County Road 9, on the way to Rochester, where three people died in two different accidents last year, may take the lead. Only two other intersections — another in St. Cloud, also on Hwy. 15, and a spot in Baxter near Brainerd — were outside the Twin Cities metro.

You can find a map of the intersections here. A couple of the intersections have undergone remodelings. Fifth on the list, the intersection of Hwy. 169 and County Road 81 in Brooklyn Park, was transformed by an elaborate interchange completed last year. Hwy.  7 and Blake Road, a phenomenally busy intersection across from Knollwood Mall in St. Louis Park, also saw a reshaping that should cut accidents.

Top ten most dangerous Minnesota intersections

OVERALL RANKDescriptionFatalitiesSevere (Life-Altering) InjuriesModerate InjuriesMinor InjuriesProperty DamageTOTALCrash Ratio*
1MN 15 AT HWY 23 & 2ND ST S, ST.CLOUD1213631722512.72
2I94 AT SNELLING AVE NORTH RAMPS,ST. PAUL3210401672222.29
3HIAWATHA (HWY 55) & E 26TH ST, MPLS221742771401.68
4MN 252 & 66TH AVE, BROOKLYN CENTER1012431161721.33
5US 169 & COUNTY ROAD 81, BROOKLYN PARK102137541130.81
6I94 & OLSON HWY WEST RAMPS021742521131.60
7MN 15 & HWY 23, ST CLOUD035441001521.38
8MN   65 & 221ST AV NE, E BETHEL28847290.60
9MN   210 & HWY 371, BAXTER001041831342.04
10MN 7 & BLAKE ROAD, ST. LOUIS PARK00255671241.29
Source: Minnesota Department of Transportation *Crashes per million vehicles entering intersection.
Ranking is determined based on a weighted average of crash severity from 2006–2010

We hope. John Hourdos, director of the Minnesota Traffic Observatory, an engineering lab at the University of Minnesota, observes: "Until you have five years of data, you don't know if you've been successful. Sometimes you can make things worse."

Here's information about the top (or worst) four intersections in the Twin Cities and what can be done, if anything, to make them safer.

No. 1: I-94 and Snelling Avenue ramps, St. Paul

According to Impola, this highly congested area sees crashes from people lined up on Snelling trying to turn onto I -94 and vice-versa. "There's a lot of red-light running and distracted driving, which usually leads to rear-ends," he says.

I can believe it. When I drove through during rush hour, cars trying to exit to Snelling were backed up far down the ramp. I can understand why drivers, anxious to get where they're going, try to jump the lights.

Building a bigger interchange would be impossible because the area is too built up, says Impola. A step-up in police enforcement might reduce crashes, but even if a traffic cop were willing to work at this dangerous spot, there's no room to pull cars over without creating more delays and possibly more accidents.

MnDOT has considered constructing another entry to I-94 nearby to relieve congestion, but that would be very costly and likely require acquisition of land that's already being put to other uses.

One possible solution: "An 'all-red' light," says Hourdos, by which he means a couple of seconds when everybody has a red light -- a kind of time-out for drivers. During those moments, he says, "things clear up." The folks who ran a red light won't be crashing into those who jumped to go through the green signal. The only problem, he says, "it delays everybody."

No. 2:  Hiawatha (Hwy. 55) and 26th Street, Minneapolis

Go south on Hiawatha from, say, Washington Avenue. You sail along for a while at 60 miles an hour as though you're on a freeway. In fact, you may have come onto Hiawatha only seconds earlier from I-35. Then, all of a sudden, there's a traffic light at 26th Street. Screech. Bang. Cars rear-end each other. Obviously, they do more than that because there were two fatalities at the intersection in the last five years. A pedestrian or bicyclist trying to cross 26th could easily be a candidate for the Grim Reaper.

Impola says that MnDOT is working with Minneapolis to retime lights on Hiawatha. Doing so would allow cars, after hitting the first green light, to keep going and clear all lights, as long as they follow the speed limit.

One little problem: "We'd have to coordinate it with the intersections," says Impola. Otherwise drivers would be waiting to cross or enter Hiawatha at 26th, 38th and 46th Streets for five full minutes at a time.

I'm not sure that would solve the speeding off the freeway problem anyway. Hourdos suggests an "all-red" light to keep pedestrians safe and some flashers and signs to warn drivers that they're going to hit an intersection and may have to stop-in, say, 1,000 feet. I would add a few speed bumps too. There's nothing like a good shaking to alert a driver to a change in the road.

No. 3:  Hwy. 252 and 66th Avenue, Brooklyn Center

Impola says that the major problem at this very heavily traveled intersection is what's called a "free right turn.” The right lane swerves in a curve, allowing a driver to bypass the traffic light. Often there's a yield sign to warn the driver to slow down and take a good look before entering the new road. But some people apparently think "yield" means "go."

Complicating that problem, however, is the fact that there's a bus stop just beyond the turnoff. Cars often back up behind the bus, says Impola. Drivers coming around the curve don't see them or aren't prepared to stop, and once again, screech, bang.

Impola believes that better timing of the lights would ease the problem. Another possibility: getting rid of the "free right turn," the change MnDOT made at Hwy. 7 and Blake Road to keep cars from curving into the main road and getting bashed by oncoming traffic. However, doing that, says Hourdos, slows things down, possibly making drivers more antsy and prone to accidents.  

No. 4:  I-94 and Olson Highway

Exiting south from I-94, drivers are offered a host of choices --  go right, go left, go straight, go crazy. If they're not careful, they can end up back on the interstate. According to Impola, cars are weaving back and forth to try to get to the right lane. Unsure about where to go, some come to a complete halt.

I believe that, since I've done it myself a couple of times. Fortunately, nobody crashed into my car's rear, and I managed to avoid any sideswipes.

We may just have to learn to live with this one because there appears to be no easy fix. "It's hard to see how we could make significant changes without acquiring more right-of-way," says Impola.

Hourdos suggests that more directional markings on the roadway itself might help, but he adds, people who don't know where they're going don't usually look at the road. They're peering around, trying to find street signs.

So for now and going forward, proceed with caution.

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Comments (14)

Hiawatha

I just have to point out that opponents to the Hiawatha re-route and upgrade observed and predicted all along that this "upgrade" would increase traffic accidents. The trend actually presented itself as early 2000. Ironically one of the big reasons MNDOT repeatedly gave for the project was that they would improve the safety of the roadway. Also, bear in mind that the speed limits on Hiawatha have been reduced; the original plan would have had posted speeds of 50-55. You have to remember, technically Hiawatha is also Hwy 55.

MnDOT Propaganda?

Are these really the "most dangerous" parts of our transportation system? Or do we have a formula designed to justify and get funding for MnDOT's highway engineers' project priorities?

roads

I wonder why there is such cynicism without any evidence or justification for this? It looks to me as though MnDOT does have evidence. Do you?
Or is it a general Government can't do anything right question? Why don't you come up with facts first?

A Fair Question

It's a fair question. Since this is Mn/DOT data, it only covers state highways. I can tell you that Hennepin Ave. south of Franklin is a red-light-running nightmare. Now, speeds are relatively slow so there probably aren't many fatalities but there are a lot of skipped heartbeats.

This most certainly does not indicate the most dangerous intersections in the state. It perhaps indicates the most dangerous places on state highways and interstates, which is something else entirely.

Stillwater Bridge

If you look at the map by Alan Palazzolo that accompanies Marlys Harris' article, you will see that two of the top 20 worst intersections in the state are on Highway 36. MNDOT has no plans and/or funding to fix them anytime soon. Instead, MNDOT has elected to build a new, bigger bridge across the St. Croix which its own studies show will push even more traffic through the already bad Highway 36 intersections. Evidently, MNDOT does not have a funding problem; it has a priority problem. It seems more interested in slightly reducing the commute times of Wisconsin residents than protecting the health and safety of Minnesota residents.

Dayton?

Let's not forget that Governor Dayton told MnDOT to make the bridge happen. Sure, MnDOT took the bridge in the wrong direction for decades, but just as they seemed to be open to a new course, Dayton--their boss--told them to build the bridge. And now there certainly is a problem because of MnDOT's $300m+ portion of the bridge and impact that has on being able to address problems elsewhere.

Although I agree 100% that

Although I agree 100% that the bridge isn't the right course, I'm not sure that the intersections are associated. I do a reverse commute from the cities to Stillwater, so I spend a lot of time on 36.

There's now a pedestrian bridge at 36 & 120 that I think was installed in response to the accidents in the report. There was a fatal accident there (this spring? last summer?) that involved a pedestrian trying to cross against the light.

Most of the problems (visually and anecdotally) with 36 & Lake Elmo are people trying to take a left from eastbound 36 onto northbound Lake Elmo, unless they're all happening when people are going to the church at the southwest corner of the intersection. Almost everyone heading south during rush hour takes Osgood or 5 to Manning.

Walking and biking

I find it disappointing that there is little mention of safety challenges for people walking and biking. That's a particular problem with Snelling, and has led to a current study that MnDOT and St. Paul are doing on ways to improve it.

MnDOT has previously done analysis of the worst stretches for walking and biking safety, which could be an interesting follow up. Unfortunately, that study doesn't get at part of the problem with roads like Snelling--many people would rather just drive than walk or bike on Snelling because they don't feel safe. MnDOT is moving in the right direction with Complete Streets and other work, but it will take some time before we don't have serious gaps in kids trying to walk to school or people who would like to bike to the grocery store.

Hiawatha, again

Hiawatha is the newest "freeway" in the city, they spent upwards of a billion dollars on it and the light rail line parallel to it and already is it has the honor of having the second most dangerous intersection in the city.

It also has the worst traffic signal controls in the city. In the effort to make sure that no car would ever beat the light rail train to the airport or to downtown, they seem to have given the cross streets as many minutes of green as does Hiawatha. And the green arrow lights work only one out of every three or four cycles.

During rush hours, as often as not, the green lights a set to make sure that most intersections call for a full stop.

And of course, let us not forget the broken Sabo Bike Bridge. Maybe they could use it for a safe viewing platform for all the accidents at 26th street, just a tad to the north of the bridge.

If only Hiawatha was done right the first time

It seems logical to me that the fix for Hiawatha is to make it a true freeway between I-35W/I-94 to MN 62. It parallels the Hiawatha line at the same level, therefore it would be much safer to take all of the cross streets over both Hiawatha AND the rail line allowing cross traffic to flow unimpeded. The 26th St intersection should have an overpass built to pass over MN 55 and E. 28th St closed access to MN 55 since there are interchanges already at Cedar Ave S and Lake St. E. 32nd should also have an overpass

Other interchange locations could be at E. 38th St and E. 46th St and then a flyover on SB MN 55 departing to the left and entering to the left at the crosstown junction - all other intersections on NB Hiawatha would be closed. Minnehaha Ave could act as the frontage road.

Unfortunately reality and logic are two different subjects here .....

MNDOT

There are plenty of problems, but let's remember that MNDOT doesn't establish priorities, they report to the governor and the legislature.

I agree that MNDOT is

I agree that MNDOT is ultimately responsible to the Governor and the Legislature; I disagree that MNDOT does not play a substantial role in setting priorities. Between the extremes of a Governor directing MNDOT to act on a specific project and the Legislature picking political winners and losers in the context of projects it wants to fund, MNDOT exercises a considerable amount of discretion. MNDOT picks projects all the time based on broadly stated constitutional and statutory goals, its own departmental priorities, and available funding. MNDOT lists the projects it intends to move forward in a state transportation investment plan. I may have missed it but I haven't heard any politician say that he or she read the most recent STIP and either agreed or disagreed with the balance struck by MNDOT between the needs of maintenance and new construction, safety and mobility, and the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.

No coordination

The problem with the traffic lights on Hiawatha goes all the way to the projects original design and battles to overcome local opposition. There was no light rail in the original design, that corridor was cleared back in the 70s for the Hwy that didn't get built. Then when the light rail was added, they used that land and separated the two projects because it was easier to overcome local opposition that way. Consequently the two projects developed more less independently but side by side. It's no wonder that they're poorly coordinated in terms of the traffic lights and what not.

Crash Prone Intersections

How about slowing the speed limit and using and enforcing those red light on ramp semaphores. Don't we already have cameras watching?