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County: Safety must be priority

By Joshua Lynch

jlynch@postbulletin.com

Road designers agree the hill on 40th Street Southwest is far too steep and remarkably unsafe.

Designers say as traffic flow increases, it's only a matter of time until a terrible accident occurs.

"We want to be proactive and prevent something from happening," said Kaye Bieniek, design engineer for Olmsted County. "We want to get something better in before the additional traffic comes."

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So, in an effort to rectify the old mistake, the county and state are moving forward to reshape the hill and widen its road into a four-lane street. Ironically, however, the very changes that were spurred by citizen concerns are now being fought by other residents.

Bieniek said she understands why people would protest giving up their homes, but a greater benefit of public safety will be found when the hill is reshaped and given a less-severe slope.

"There's no doubt that people will get upset," she said. "There's always that part of it when you do a big project. But this needs to be done."

Brian Jergenson, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said state planners support the changes.

"There is already so much development in that area (near the 40th Street hill) that traffic volumes will increase," he said. "Based on that, it's a sound safety and engineering decision."

Current plans call for the entire design -- of which the hill project is just one aspect -- to be finished by November, when construction companies can enter bids. Work along U.S. 63 will begin in spring 2003; everything should be completed in 2005.

Bieniek said the project will be massive, but when completed it will greatly improve the driving conditions south of Rochester.

"The project itself is going to improve the capacity, improve the safety and improve the congestion," she said. "It really will."

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