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County to restripe 70th Street in Cottage Grove amid safety concerns

Washington County officials are launching a construction pilot program aimed at alleviating what county Commissioner Autumn Lehrke called “safety and mobility concerns” at the intersection of 70th Street and Hardwood Avenue in Cottage Grove.

Over the past several months, county officials have discussed a plan to remedy the traffic concerns, which include speeding and unlawful passing in turn lanes, as part of a three-phase reconstruction detail. 

The first phase, Washington County Engineer Wayne Sandberg told the City Council last week, will be the restriping and adjusting of lane configurations at intersections from Granada Avenue to Hardwood Avenue. Sandberg said the $35,000, short-term fix would take place yet this fall.

Hardwood Avenue intersects 70th Street at the bottom of hills to the east and west. The existing configuration poses a danger to drivers coming down 70th Street from either direction and who are planning to turn. Drivers are supposed to slow down and yield to left-turning drivers, but according to reported complaints it is not uncommon to see drivers using the right shoulder to pass as they continue on 70th Street.

“The restriping is not a long-term fix-all,” Sandberg admitted, “but it does address what we were hearing are the most urgent problems, (which are) fear of being rear-ended and illegal and unpredictable passing on the right.”

In an effort to make the intersection safer, engineers have devised a lane configuration that adds center left turn lanes. The reconfiguration, which eliminates the right turn lanes, is what Sandberg called “a new philosophy on how to manage traffic growth without widening (a road).”

“The first car that (passes on the shoulder) maybe is not a big deal, but it’s the second and third car who never saw you waiting that we are concerned about,” Sandberg said.

The decision to eliminate the right turn lane, Sandberg said, was made because drivers can continue moving through the right turn as opposed to turning left where drivers have to come to a complete stop and wait for gaps in traffic.

The engineering department paid special attention to crash rates in the area while devising the plan, he said, and found that while the rate is not higher than similar intersections in the county, it is important to be proactive. 

“The function (of a county highway) is to provide more mobility (rather) than access,” Sandberg said. “You will see more intersections than driveways on county roads. And crashes typically occur at intersections. So if we can manage those then we can keep our crash rates low and safety high.”

With the realignment of Keats Avenue and an expected influx of new housing, Sandberg said that traffic along 70th Street will only increase. Current data shows between 8,000 and 9,400 vehicles travel the area of 70th Street each day, but projections show vehicle traffic will double by 2030.

Restriping of 70th Street from Granada Avenue to Hardwood Avenue is expected to begin this month and the road will remain open during the entire project.

“Traffic will be shifted with barrels and cones,” Sandberg said. “This is considered a pilot project. If this works well and people adapt to it well and we receive positive feedback, you could see us expand this further east next year.”

Within the next few years, Sandberg said the county will look at widening the road, which might require acquiring additional right of way, to add right turn lanes. Slated in the county’s 2017 capital improvement plan, the medium-term plan would use roughly $2 million in county state aid funds that Sandberg said are currently set aside. 

In the long term, the county is looking at spending $22 million to $25 million to build a four-lane divided highway with center medians and retaining walls.