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Concerns raised about new Cottage Grove intersection traffic control changes

The city of Cottage Grove is evaluating recent traffic control changes at some of the city's busiest intersections following reports of motorists having difficulty adapting to the altered signals and signage.

A pair of accidents at the busy intersection of Jamaica Avenue and East Point Douglas Road since the city reprogrammed traffic signals there in June to include a flashing yellow light for left-turning drivers -- meaning yield to oncoming lanes of traffic and turn when traffic is clear -- and instances of driver confusion at the other six intersection impacted by the changes have led to some complaints, city officials said last week.

The modifications, including turn lane changes and signal re-timing, were undertaken following an audit of the city's stoplight-controlled intersections earlier this year. They are aimed, city officials have said, at reducing idling time at intersections to conserve fuel and make for easier driving through some of Cottage Grove's busiest areas.

Public Works Director Les Burshten told the City Council last week that his department is still assessing the changes and attempting to ease the transition for motorists.

"We're still out their looking, and reviewing and observing what's going on out there," Burshten said, answering questions from City Council member Justin Olsen.

The fixes occurred at four major intersections: Jamaica Avenue and East Point Douglas Road; Jamaica and 90th Street; East Point Douglas and Cottage Grove Plaza, near the mall that includes Target; and 80th Street and East Point Douglas/Hardwood Avenue.

The two accidents at Jamaica and 90th -- one occurring the day the changes were implemented, the most recent last week -- are the most obvious examples of drivers struggling with the altered traffic controls.

Public Safety Director Craig Woolery said he believed driver unfamiliarity with flashing yellow signals was behind much of the confusion.

"A [flashing] yellow means use caution," he said. "You do not have the right of way to turn."

Most problematic, however, has been the 80th Street/East Point Douglas Road/Hardwood Avenue intersection, Burshten told the council.

There, turn lane changes have caused a number of drivers to turn left from a center lane that no longer allows that movement. Cottage Grove Police Department officers have watched the area closely, pulling over drivers to educate them about the changes. Also, the city has placed flags and extra alerts at the intersection.

"If anything, that's the [intersection] we're looking at more closely than the others," Burshten said. "That's the area that people seem most concerned with."

Public Works staff will deliver an updated report to the City Council on the impacts of the intersection changes at a meeting next month.