When state lawmakers visited the intersection of Norell Avenue and the State Frontage Road in Oak Park Heights Nov. 14, there was minimal traffic at 9 a.m.
Locals who navigate the business intersection when rush hour traffic is in full swing on Highway 36 know it’s an intersection that should be avoided.
“It’s an intersection we have all used and we all hate,” said Oak Park Heights city administrator Eric Johnson.
It’s not just users that say the intersection is bad; there is plenty of data to back the claim up. After using the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Level of Service (LOS) grading scheme, the intersection received an “F” in nearly every direction. Due to increased traffic on Highway 36 from the St. Croix Crossing bridge, the intersection causes delays and backups. According to MnDOT, 38,000 cars now use Highway 36 every day.
“People make poor decisions trying to cross the Frontage Road because it is frustrating to use,” said city engineer Lee Mann.
Those frustrated drivers can make mistakes. When looking at crash data from 2011 to 2015 at the intersection, Norell Avenue and Frontage Road rate magnitudes above the “critical” designation. For an intersection, the state average crash rate is 0.18 — a critical intersection has a crash rate of 0.42. At Norell Avenue and Frontage Road, the calculated crash rate is 1.76 – nearly ten times the state average.
“My daughter was driving a new car through that intersection — she didn’t even have the plates yet — and was t-boned,” said Oak Park Heights Mayor Mary McComber.
In order to correct these safety issues, the city is proposing to realign the frontage road south and create a new road through the existing parking lots. The current frontage road would dead-end at Norell Avenue, and a roundabout would be built behind the new Panera Bread location.
The total project cost is estimated to be $2.23 million, and the project would be paid for from three sources. The city has secured a MnDOT Local Agreement Program Grant in the amount of $644,000. The city has also committed to provide $794,392 in local funds. The remaining $794,400 of project funding is part of a legislative request in the 2020 bonding bill.
“Without the money from the state legislature, the project wouldn’t go forward,” Johnson said. “It would be up to MnDOT to decide what they wanted to do about the safety issues.”
On Nov. 14, the House Investment Committee visited the intersection as part of a bus tour of bonding requests in the state. Representative Mary Murphy, chair of the committee, said that they would consider the project carefully.
“Safety is our biggest concern and when people bring forward a way to improve safety, we have to listen,” Murphy said. Murphy said that any funding for this project would likely be part of a larger transportation bonding bill.
Representative Shelley Christensen from Stillwater authored the bonding bill for the project, and State Senator Karin Housley authored a similar bill for in the Senate. Christensen said she appreciated the project already has two-third of the funding already in place, and would see other lawmakers supporting it.
“This isn’t just an Oak Park Heights issues, but an issues for all of us in the area that use this intersection,” Christensen said.
If requested funding can be secured in the 2020 Legislative cycle, Johnson said they city expects to finalize design and engineering by the end of 2020, with bidding and construction beginning in early 2021.
Contact Alicia Lebens at firstname.lastname@example.org