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COL Dying for a change

U.S. 52 near Oronoco must be improved immediately

When something can be done that might improve highway safety, it should be done. Minnesota Commissioner of Transportation Carol Molnau should direct department engineers to make whatever safety improvements are possible for a stretch of U.S. Highway 52 near Oronoco.

Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, will meet with Molnau later this month to make an impassioned plea for action. Senjem will not be speaking for himself, but for the greater Rochester-Oronoco community. People are dying in numbers that point to a problem with highway design that must be corrected. The latest fatal accident occurred last week.

While full reconstruction is coming in a couple of years, safety improvements are needed now.

U.S. 52 as it passes through Oronoco is used heavily as the main feeder into Rochester from the north. Cars and trucks fill both lanes and speed along sloping curves that hinder vision. The real threat comes from the two county-road intersections -- Olmsted County Road 18 and Olmsted County Road 12 -- that also are high-traffic lanes. Other than stop signs on the county roads, and driver awareness, there are no controls.

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The specifics of what is required should come from the state highway design experts who work for Molnau. However, there are some obvious possibilities. The goal is to reduce the risk.

Speed reductions from 65 mph to a lower speed could increase time available for driver reactions.

Highly visible signs could alert drivers that they are about to enter a high-use area that includes significant amounts of uncontrolled vehicle access.

Traffic lights would be an extreme measure, but traffic analysis might indicate that such controls would be the most prudent action.

Additional trooper presence along the troubled distance would slow down drivers. The impact of a highway patrol car on driver behavior cannot be underestimated. Such a move likely would be expensive, but, compared to the current and obvious threat to lives, it might be cost effective.

Significant changes are coming, through new construction, to the stretch of U.S. 52 that intersects with the county roads. But this work won't commence until 2006. The work will create controlled access to 52 through on ramps with frontage roads and overpasses.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty deserves credit for deciding to release millions in construction funds to continue construction work along U.S. 52 from Rochester through Pine Island.

Molnau should listen closely to Senjem. Improvements are needed now.

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