ZUMBROTA — About 30 individuals listened then asked questions about MnDOT's plans to alter the intersection of U.S. Highway 52 and Goodhue County Road 7.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation, after hearing concerns about plans to replace the current intersection at Highway 52 and CR 7 with a reduced conflict intersection, or RCI, invited people who had made those concerns known to a workshop Wednesday night in Zumbrota.
"Doing nothing in not an option," said Dan Pfieffer, a consultant working with MnDOT on the project. "And a full interchange is not an option. There is not the funding available for that. That could be decades."
The option championed by MnDOT was to replace the current intersection, where vehicles entering Highway 52 from the east heading south or vehicles entering from the west heading north would cross two lanes of traffic and the median before turning.
The replacement would be a full-access RCI, where traffic turning off Highway 52 would have special lanes to cross the median but traffic turning onto Highway 52 that would have simply crossed the median will first head in the opposite directions before using J-turn lanes.
The cost of the full-access RCI would be roughly $650,000, while a full interchange with bridge overpass would cost more than 10 times that amount, a MnDOT official said.
The biggest concern with replacing the current intersection with an RCI was the impact the new intersection would have on drivers of semi tractor-trailers and large farm equipment.
"I understand something needs to be done," said Riley Budensiek, who lives within a quarter-mile of the intersection and drives a semi. "But why do I have to take on so much more risk."
The intersection sits right around a corner to the south and at the bottom of a hill, the top of which is six-tenths of a mile to the north. Budensiek said he can see well enough in both directions to cross the road as it is.
But if forced to use the J-turn — driving north for two-tenths of a mile and crossing two lanes while hauling an 80,000-pound load — then using the J-turn to turn around and head south adds to his risk. In the winter, he said, using an uphill turnaround in icy conditions would leave him vulnerable.
Then there's the matter of getting up to speed after changing directions at the J-turn. With traffic often racing over the hilltop in excess of 70 or 80 miles per hour, getting his truck moving before southbound vehicles on Highway 52 are at his bumper would be nearly impossible, he said.
While MnDOT officials assured the group that the RCI would be safer than the current intersection at CR 7 and Highway 52, most of those in attendance Wednesday disagreed.
"None of us feel that way," Budensiek said.
Trooper Ted Aspnes of the Minnesota State Patrol said he did not have data to back up his claims, but in watching traffic on that stretch of road for eight years, he had some suggestions. First, he said, those J-turn lanes should come with median acceleration lanes to help trucks and other large vehicles get up to speed. Otherwise, he'd prefer the J-turns be moved to locations with better visibility.
That, said MnDOT Project Manager Jai Kalsy, is one of the takeaways that'll be looked at after the meeting.
"We'll continue to look at the RCI with design enhancements and improvements," Kalsy said. "We'll continue looking at an improvement to that design."
In the end, while a one-size fits all RCI might not fit the CR 7 and Highway 52 intersection, he said, an RCI is the right choice because it reduces the number of conflict points at the intersection from 32 to 14.
"We don't think a do-nothing approach is the answer," Kalsy said.