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Washington County seeks traffic study on 65th Street

South Washington County officials are asking the Minnesota Department of Transportation to conduct a traffic study on a 2-mile stretch of road on 65th Street. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)

A 2-mile stretch of one south Washington County road will be studied after neighboring residents have complained about inconsistent speed limits and sight-blocking intersections.

The winding stretch of 65th Street, or County Road 74, from Hastings Avenue in Newport to Hinton Avenue in Cottage Grove twists, turns, changes speed limits several times and has two blind intersections, one of which is near a school bus stop.

In an attempt to address concerns, the county is requesting the Minnesota Department of Transportation conduct a traffic study of that section of 65th Street to determine appropriate speed limits.

A traffic study was last conducted on the thoroughfare in 2003, Washington County Engineer Wayne Sandberg said in an interview, but he added it was time to re-evaluate.

“That road has been rural for a long time but has since been urbanizing,” Sandberg said. “There are more homes. There’s a school. It’s near Hinton (Avenue).”

Fielding comments from parents whose children use the school bus stop at the top of one of the hills with a blind intersection, Sandberg said arbitrarily changing the speed limit will not happen.

“(The county doesn’t) have the authority to set the speeds,” he said. “The speed limits on all Minnesota roads are set by the commissioner of transportation, which is managed by MnDOT.”

There are two kinds of speed limit signs visible on the road, Sandberg said. There are black and white signs, which are legally enforceable, and black and yellow signs, which he said are recommendations.

“Those are advisory signs that suggest a speed reduction over the posted speed limit to traverse a hill,” Sandberg said. “Those are not easily enforceable and they don’t carry the weight the black and white ones do.”

The traffic study would take into consideration adjacent land use, specifically the number of homes, how many driveways are present, and whether the area is more rural or urban.

The outcome of the study, Sandberg said, is not necessarily to get a speed reduced, but rather to find an appropriate speed.

Engineers typically set speed limits by looking at habits of drivers navigating the roads during “good conditions when it’s dry and sunny,” Sandberg said.

“One thing to take into consideration is that the speed limit may go up,” he said. “The law says what shall be posted is what is considered reasonable and safe.

“We all have to agree that once the study is complete that we agree to abide by the outcome,” Sandberg added. “We want the sign to be appropriate and safe, but reflective of what is most reasonable.”

The MnDOT study will also assess how rolling hills play a role in sightlines on 65th Street.

“Hills are always a challenge for highways,” Sandberg said. “You have the speed that is set for the majority of the road and drivers are comfortable with it. Then there is this hill with a sight restriction. We, as a highway agency, want to get the message out there that (drivers) may want to pay extra attention, slow down or ease off the accelerator.”

To make drivers aware of the hills on 65th Street, signs are posted that warn drivers of the blocked intersections, but the county is also experimenting with a new kind of signage.

Joe Gustafson, a Washington County transportation engineer, rotated black and yellow signs typically used to signal sharp turns to create a chevron pattern down both sides of one of the hills. The new signals, Sandberg said, help drivers understand what is coming ahead.

“We had to get federal approval to do this, we can’t just make up highway signs,” Sandberg said. “They have been up a little more than a year now. I think our position is that nothing is conclusive at this point. But people see it, and they react to new things.”

However, the long-term goal is to get drivers to adapt to the new signage and not revert back to old driving habits.

The county is in the early stages of requesting the traffic study. MnDOT public affairs representative Denise Workcuff said the study will not occur in 2014.

Sandberg said the cost would be minimal, as it would only require MnDOT staff time and would take anywhere from eight months to a year to complete.

“A speed limit that produced the greatest amount of compliance would be the best outcome (of the study),” Sandberg said. “We want to make sure the signage is correct. We just want the right answer, the safest outcome.”