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Stop lights installed at dangerous intersection

Workers labored in Monday's chilly temperatures to install wood pole stoplights at the busy intersection of 70th Street and Hardwood Avenue in Cottage Grove.

Stop lights at the increasingly dangerous 70th Street and Hardwood Avenue intersection should be operational by the first week of November, a Washington County official said last week, an effort to stem the sharp increase in automobile accidents the busy crossing has seen since 2005.

County crews have been working to install the temporary wood pole signals the past few weeks and Washington County assistant traffic engineer Nick Costello said last Friday 70th and Hardwood could be light-controlled as early as this Saturday, Nov. 1.

The push for traffic signals at the intersection intensified early this summer after an accident -- then the sixth of 2008 -- left a St. Paul Park motorcyclist seriously injured. Costello said 70th Street (also County Road 22) and Hardwood Avenue popped up on the county's watch list in about 2005 when officials watched vehicle trips per day through the intersection jump due to the new Highway 61 interchange --now 8,000 per day -- and rapid residential growth along the western stretch of 70th.

Quickly, Costello said, the intersection became a hotspot, "one of the areas that rose to the top of the list, you could say."

Stoplights were originally intended to be installed as part of a county project in 2012, but Cottage Grove and Washington County reached a cost-sharing agreement to speed traffic signals to the intersection. Costello says county officials also considered a roundabout and four-way stop for the crossing.

The county and city will split the $150,000 cost for wood pole traffic lights. Permanent steel pole signals cost roughly $250,000, Costello said.

Officials have seen accidents increase from two in 2005 to four in '06 and '07.

Since 2005 there have been 14 injuries and one death at the intersection.

Washington County and Cottage Grove officials hope the signals reduce those numbers, but introducing the new traffic controls to the intersection isn't without its own perils, Costello said.

East-west 70th Street and north-south Hardwood Avenue cross at the bottom of two large hills, making it unlike any other intersection in the county, Costello says.

"Definitely, the steep grades on both sides, that was a concern for us right from the start," he said.

Because of the challenging terrain, Washington County will take additional safety measures at the intersection. The only set of advanced warning flashers -- signs blinking when the light ahead is red -- in the county will give motorists an early heads-up of the approaching stop at Hardwood Avenue.

And to ensure drivers can stop when they get there Washington County Public Works will pre-treat the intersection every few weeks during Minnesota's long winter with a magnesium chloride solution to prevent the steep hills from becoming too slick. The intersection, Costello says, will also "be high priority on our plow route."

The wood pole signals are intended to be temporary, but could be used for a decade if needed, Costello said. Washington County is in the process of seeking funding for further improvements at 70th and Hardwood, he says.

Jon Avise can be reached at