Folks in Brooklyn Center had plenty to say at a recent City Hall meeting seeking ideas for fixing safety and congestion problems on the city’s busy and often-dangerous Hwy. 252 corridor.
The four- to six-lane corridor, which handles 50,000 to 70,000 vehicles a day, extends two miles north from Interstate 694 to 85th Avenue in Brooklyn Park.
Hwy. 252’s most dangerous crossing is at 66th Avenue. Over a five-year period from 2008 to 2012, the intersection was rated third-most-costly in damage and crash injuries (including one fatality) out of about 8,000 intersections in a state database, said Lars Impola, a Metro District traffic safety engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Brooklyn Center has hired WSB & Associates, a Golden Valley firm, to oversee a six-month, $60,000 study aimed at improving the 252 corridor. City Engineer Steve Lillehaug told residents at the recent meeting that the most comprehensive solution — upgrading 252 to a freeway — couldn’t happen because the corridor, like many other expensive projects, was bumped off the major expansion plan list by the Metropolitan Council and MnDOT in 2010.
“Why was 252 dropped from the plan?” asked resident Julia Wiatros.
“It sounds like somebody was sleeping on the job,” she added later.
“The governor and Legislature decide funding priorities,” replied Tony Heppelmann, lead consultant for WSB & Associates.
“When we were dropped out of the plan, we didn’t like it,” added Mayor Tim Willson. He noted that 66th Avenue “is one of the worst intersections for crashes in the state. So rather than wait for MnDOT, we will do something about it.”
Hwy. 252 handles nearly 70,000 vehicles a day at 66th Avenue. In the past three years, there have been 1.63 crashes per million vehicles entering the intersection, almost three times the state intersection average of 0.6 crashes, Heppelmann said.
The WSB study will produce recommendations for short-term improvements, such as better turn lanes, an interchange or a pedestrian bridge to reduce traffic backups and improve foot and vehicle safety. WSB will present the recommendations to the City Council this fall. After deciding which changes to pursue, the council will seek to augment city funds with state and federal dollars, likely through MnDOT and the Met Council, Lillehaug said.
Willson said the City Council has discussed a pedestrian bridge as one option at 66th Avenue. He also said he didn’t know why 252 was dropped from state highway expansion plans.
Facing funding cutbacks, MnDOT has revised its philosophy from making mega freeway improvements to investing in smaller solutions to make highways safer and improve traffic flow, said John Griffith, MnDOT’s west area manager for Hennepin County. He said in an interview that about a dozen projects were pulled off the mega project list in 2010, including Hwy. 252, a Crosstown Hwy. 62 project in south Minneapolis and an I-494 project in Bloomington.
“We couldn’t fund them,” Griffith said. “It would take all our money to fund just a few and there would be no money for preservation needs.”
He noted that a rough estimate for converting Hwy. 252 — with six traffic-light intersections — into a freeway was well over $100 million.
At the City Hall meeting, resident Chuck Steinhaus asked why Bloomington, Edina and Eden Prairie received state money for the mega interchange built at I-494 and Hwy. 169 a few years ago while Brooklyn Center can’t win major highway funding.
Griffith said the $125 million south suburban interchange finished in 2012 was justified because it connected two freeways and cut congestion and crashes by removing the last traffic signals on Hwy. 169 from Shakopee to Brooklyn Park. (In 2013 Brooklyn Park replaced its last Hwy. 169 signals at 93rd Avenue with a $17 million, half-diamond interchange.)
Griffith noted that one of the few remaining major MnDOT projects is the completion of the last few miles of Hwy. 610 to connect the north side freeway to I-94 in Maple Grove.
He said that MnDOT has done all it can to synchronize the six traffic lights on Hwy. 252, but that congestion and safety issues persist.
“We are not going to walk away from those issues,” Griffith said. “Maybe we can do one interchange at a time. The study will clarify what we can do there and get Brooklyn Center and MnDOT on the same page.”