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Study to continue on intersection near Cottage Grove's Highlands Park

A growing number of city residents utilizing Highlands Park and the recently constructed splash pad aquatic play feature prompted the city of Cottage Grove and Washington County to study the Idsen Avenue and 70th Street intersection to address current and future safety concerns.

Most recently, the engineering department discussed implementing a Hybrid Activated crossWALK beacon, or HAWK, system, and allocated capital improvement project funds for the installation. However, Cottage Grove City Engineer Jennifer Levitt took the idea off the table last month saying it would not be an appropriate solution.

"We have concluded that the HAWK system is not appropriate for an intersection with four legs," Levitt said. "It could be confusing and dangerous for both pedestrians and vehicle traffic who may not recognize what the signal means."

The HAWK system is a pedestrian-activated warning device that has an arm extending over the road that alerts oncoming traffic that a pedestrian has entered the road. The beacon, similar to a standard traffic light, is dark until a pedestrian wishing to cross the street activates the light by pushing a button. A flashing yellow signal is activated and after several seconds a steady red light is illuminated, signaling all vehicle traffic to stop. However, with the current intersection aligned as a two-way stop on Idsen Avenue with no stop signs on 70th Street, Levitt said research shows a HAWK system would instead be more appropriate at an intersection with a median.

"One factor that led to this recommendation is that when we talked to the public safety commission and the parks and recreation director, we found that there wasn't a lot of public concern or an uncomfortable nature related to this intersection," Levitt said. With most people arriving to the park attractions by car, she added "we recommend waiting another season but continuing to monitor the intersection and come back at a later date with a more detailed plan."

However, Cottage Grove City Council member Justin Olsen said with the popularity of the splash pad only continuing to increase, he said it would be prudent to install a stoplight.

"Often times when it comes to traffic management, we tend to be a little late with decisions," he said. "We tend to wait for an accident to happen before we do anything. If that was my kid walking across the road, I would want there to be a safety mechanism in place to make sure they cross safely. I'd rather utilize foresight versus hindsight."

Levitt briefly detailed several short-term and long-term solutions to the safety issues at the intersection, which ranged in price from approximately $15,000 to $1 million.

Several lower-cost, short-term solutions the department recommended that could be implemented in 2013 included the installation of advanced warning pedestrian crossing signs at the Idsen Avenue sidewalk costing $15,900, addition of pedestrian crossing signs at the location of the intersection costing $17,600, and the addition of a pedestrian activated rectangular rapid flash beacon costing more than $30,000. Also included in all the proposed prices is pavement striping of refuge islands.

A more costly, long-term solution the department also researched was constructing a pedestrian underpass costing between $800,000 and $1 million.

The City Council directed the engineering department to continue monitoring the pedestrian traffic at the intersection and research more options for short- and long-term solutions to safety issues and report back in the near future.