A parade of fast cars and construction rigs along a county road in Grant has neighbors calling for faster action from local governments.
County Road 17, known locally as Lake Elmo Avenue, has become the preferred route for legions of commuters dodging construction zones and busier roads with stoplights, said resident Mary Michels, who is leading a neighborhood effort to slow the traffic.
“I want a fast solution. I don’t want something that’s going to take another year. These people need action now,” Michels said. “That little mile and a quarter stretch, with the two-lane roller coaster ride at 55 miles an hour, that’s too fast.”
County Engineer Wayne Sandberg agreed that traffic has increased, estimating it now totals between 6,000 and 7,000 vehicles a day. But he said that as a “state aid” highway, it’s doing what it’s designed to do, which is funneling traffic that otherwise would cut through neighborhoods.
“The county highway traffic system is where we want the commuter traffic to go,” Sandberg said.
Michels said aggressive drivers have turned nasty by tailgating other motorists and waving obscenities. In one case of road rage, Michels said, a driver who was evidently annoyed that a Grant resident drove too slow followed her to where she works at 3M in Maplewood, “screaming at her and flipping her off.”
Michels appeared at a recent County Board meeting, armed with a petition from Grant residents, to tell commissioners the traffic problem had accelerated out of control.
Sandberg, acknowledging resident concerns, said he will arrange a town-hall meeting in November. He said it’s important to first determine what residents identify as key concerns before taking any action. But it’s also important to keep traffic moving on County Road 17, he said.
“It’s always a balancing act,” said Sandberg, who agreed with Michels that an uptick in housing construction in Washington County is creating more traffic. Reconstruction of the Hilton Trail interchange at Hwy. 36, near Mahtomedi, also is detouring traffic, he said.
Every new house produces 10 more trips a day on roads, Sandberg said, citing a measurement by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. It’s common for residents throughout the county to want slower speed limits where they live but faster speed limits elsewhere, he said.
Michels, who has lived in Grant for six years, said County Road 17 has become a thoroughfare for big construction vehicles and residents of new housing areas farther north. Many of the 163 people who signed the petition, she said, did it out of “mostly anger with how the county dumped all their traffic on us.”
Another resident, Marc Mahowald, lives near the scene of a recent crash that left a young man in critical condition. That stretch of road is particularly worrisome, he said, because drivers come barreling over a blind hill much faster than the speed limit. “It’s at the point lately to where it’s getting dangerous,” he said. “Somebody’s going to have a fight over this, that’s what I see.”
The Grant traffic, Michels said, is a symptom of a wider problem of distracted and rude drivers dominating the highways.
“Thirty years ago there were no cupholders in cars, there were no cellphones, no designer coffee, so people just drove,” she said. “Now there are so many distractions, so many deadlines, everybody has to get everyplace in a hurry. You’ve got so many moms out riding around because kids don’t want to take the school bus. It’s the country gone berserk. I’m getting angry as I get old.”