Although a Minnesota Department of Transportation speed study suggested a 40 mph speed limit for Flagstaff Avenue as it passes Eastview High School in Apple Valley, the state agreed to review the matter because the city is concerned about safety near the school and wants to keep the posted limit at 30 mph.
This month the Apple Valley City Council had been ready to take one of the only avenues open to cities for overruling the state study and making its own determination of the speed limit. The city had planned to declare the 1,350-foot stretch of Flagstaff an “urban district,’’ which would have kept the speed limit at 30, as it’s been for 20 years.
But the city removed the item from its agenda, said Public Works Director Todd Blomstrom, because MnDOT agreed to conduct a second review of the portion of the road in question. “The city will take some additional time to further study the roadway with MnDOT before [making] any long-term changes to the posted speed limit,” he said.
The speed limit on Flagstaff is under discussion because last summer the city of Apple Valley extended it 1,400 feet to the south, making it a through street to Lakeville.
Wanting to establish an “official speed limit” on the road, the city asked the state to conduct a speed study, Blomstrom said.
MnDOT’s speed study found that just 3 percent of vehicles on that section of Flagstaff are going 30 mph or less, said Chad Erickson, speed zoning supervisor for MnDOT’s metro district. “We are cognizant of the fact that the school is there,” he said. “But the speeds there today are not 30 mph.”
In one sample of 242 vehicles from 1:40 to 3:40 p.m. on a Thursday south of the high school, five were going 30 mph or less, nine were going 31 and the majority were going about 38.
“What the majority of drivers consider to be reasonable, typically is reasonable,” which is why MnDOT takes samples, Erickson said. “If you set a speed limit unreasonably low, no one follows it. … Usually the only way you can coerce a driver to drive slower than what they think is reasonable is intensive police presence.”
MnDOT sets speed limits on most roads, but “within that there are exceptions to allow local entities to change that,” Erickson said.
If a city sends MnDOT a letter informing the state that it has made a different speed determination, MnDOT will step aside, Erickson said. “We are not going to send our crews out there to change their signs or anything.”
But if a city overrules a state speed study recommendation, it will fall to the city to defend that speed limit if a driver is ticketed on the street or has a crash there and challenges the speed limit in court, Erickson said.
Speed study information is public, and drivers do regularly look into the findings if they want to beat a traffic ticket, Erickson said.
The city accepts the state’s recommendation of 40 mph for most of Flagstaff, with the exception of the 1,350-foot segment south of 140th Street in front of the high school. The city’s traffic safety advisory committee, which includes police officers, has recommended that the speed limit stay at 30 mph.
The city’s concern is that the short stretch is packed with traffic. On the east side, school buses come morning and evening to pick up and drop off students. The 400-space student parking lot is off Flagstaff. The football stadium and several other athletic fields have their parking on Flagstaff.
On the west side is the city maintenance facility, which houses the city’s snowplows and a building where police vehicles are kept.
“In that 1,350 feet, there is a tremendous amount of traffic,” Blomstrom said, “especially in the winter, when we are trying to deploy all the snowplow equipment and the students and school buses are pouring in.”
A time frame has not been set for revisiting the issue with MnDOT, Blomstrom said.