Sep 2nd 2020 - 2pm: This article has been updated
The lack of a new interchange at the intersection of U.S. Highway 14 and County Road 104 dominated Olmsted County commissioners’ discussion as they were presented the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s 10-year plan Tuesday.
“When I don’t see it in the 10-year plan, it offends me,” said county commissioner Jim Bier, who represents the district that includes the intersection.
The comment came less than two weeks after the death of former county commissioner James Daley, who was involved in a collision at the intersection on July 28.
Daley was attempting to cross the highway when his vehicle collided with a semi truck traveling east on Highway 14.
Mark Schoenfelder, the transportation district engineer for MnDOT’s Region 6, said the creation of a new interchange at the intersection is supported by the state agency, but funding is not available.
“We simply do not have the funding in our annual program to do these large, large improvements,” he told county commissioners.
The Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives had approved differing levels of funding to start the estimated $40 million project earlier this year, but final agreement never emerged.
“I thought we were close this year,” Schoenfelder said.
While waiting for funding, Schoenfelder said the state is hoping to install a reduced-conflict intersection, which would remove the median at the intersection and require drivers seeking to make left turns to make U-turns at designated medians.
“I understand the (county) board isn’t really fond of those kinds of improvements, but one thing that is a proven fact is they do save lives,” he said, adding that studies show a 35 percent decrease in overall collisions, a 50 percent decrease in injury crashes and a 75 percent decrease in fatalities.
The modified intersections, sometimes referred to as J-turns, have been seen locally on U.S, Highway 61 near Wabasha, and at more than 40 other locations throughout the state, and Schoenfelder said more are planned.
Bier said he knows they work in some cases, but argued that on Highway 14 they would simply move traffic conflicts to other intersections.
“If you put in these J-turns in at 104, you’re going to drive more traffic to (West Circle Drive), you are going to drive more traffic to an at-grade intersection west on County Road 103 and you are also going to put people on our County Road 34 to the south and you are also going to put them onto a gravel road that is north of Highway 14,” he said. “All you are going to do is drive traffic into more conduits.”
He said the issue is also complicated by the large trucks and school buses that need to use the corridor.
Schoenfelder agreed that the other intersections and roadways in the area will need to be considered as the state looks to make changes.
Asked by Board Chairman Matt Flynn whether county approval would be needed to close the intersection with a county road, Schoenfelder said the state prefers to work with local residents and governing bodies, but could move ahead with the effort if it’s considered the appropriate interim step.
“Ultimately, MnDOT has the right to close a median at any time,” he said.
While a median closure isn’t in the current plan, the state is planning to install cable median barriers to portions of Highway 14 between Rochester and Byron next year and start a two-year resurfacing project in 2029.