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Hwy. 169 turmoil prompts effort to oust city leaders in Hopkins

Photo by Hopkins Police

A big traffic flap is brewing in Hopkins where a group of residents fed up with rogue motorists cutting through neighborhoods to bypass the official Hwy. 169 detour has launched an effort to oust the mayor and four city council members, claiming they have not done enough to address the problem.

Traffic levels have soared exponentially on 11th Avenue, Smetana Road and residential streets in the southern part of the city since the Minnesota Department of Transportation closed the Nine Mile Creek bridge on Hwy. 169 in January and displaced nearly 90,000 motorists a day. The bridge between 5th Street/Lincoln Drive and Bren Road is being rebuilt and is expected to reopen this fall.

On Thursday, a group called Hopkins Minnesota Mayoral Recall Campaign pointed across the border to Edina where traffic mitigation efforts in the upscale Parkwood Knolls neighborhood yielded success, and said elected officials in Hopkins have done too little to curb the influx of cut-through traffic that has clogged streets and put residents' safety in the Parkwood Valley and Peaceful Valley neighborhoods at risk.

"Help us protect Hopkins by recalling our Mayor, Molly Cummings, and our four City Council members, Katy Campbell, Jason Gadd, Kristi Halverson and Aaron Kuzina and replacing them with representatives that listen to us and act," a news release formally announcing the recall campaign said. "While the City of Hopkins has made efforts to reduce traffic in Hopkins residential neighborhoods, the results have been dismal," the release continued.

Last month, in response to resident complaints, Hopkins deployed extra police during rush hours at the busy intersection at 11th and Smetana to crack down on drivers speeding and rolling through stop signs. Police (on overtime being paid for by MnDOT) also were at times prohibiting turns onto 11th Avenue when traffic stacks up. Officers were deployed to shoo trucks and non-local traffic over to Shady Oak Road to keep extra vehicles out of neighborhoods. And the city also put up signs to remind drivers that 11th Avenue in Hopkins is for local traffic only and that motorists passing through should stay out of the neighborhoods.

But that has not done the trick, and traffic jams have persisted, the group said.

In the days following the bridge closure, traffic in Edina's Parkwood Knolls neighborhood jumped fivefold from 1,000 to 5,100 vehicles a day. On the quiet meandering streets that don’t have sidewalks, traffic jams formed, sometimes so thick that mothers with strollers were forced to play “Frogger” as they crossed streets. Aggressive drivers slalomed around bikers and walkers, residents said, sometimes ignoring stop signs and running school bus stop arms, residents said. They brought their complaints to City Hall. After a persistent fight, the city agreed to put up barriers to keep incoming and outgoing traffic from using Dovre Drive on the neighborhood’s south end. Since they went up in March, traffic levels have returned to near pre-construction levels.

"The City of Edina was much more responsive to its citizens and was able to cut traffic back to pre-detour levels, which in turn pushed still more traffic onto Hopkins residential streets," the group's news release said.

Soon to compound matters is a construction project in the Peaceful Valley and Park Valley neighborhoods in which streets will undergo full reconstruction with new curbs and gutters this spring and summer.

Railroad crossing safety behind effort Wednesday in Hopkins

A motorist blocked the light-rail tracks Tuesday afternoon in downtown Minneapolis. Photo by Paul Walsh

About every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train the U.S. Department of Transportation says, and that's why Hopkins Police will be conducting a railroad crossing safety effort on Wednesday.

Over the past year, train crews in the west metro suburb have reported issues with drivers stopping on the tracks and or too close to the tracks and motorists driving around stop arms, said Sgt. Mike Glassberg.

"We have had two collisions at one of our crossings in the last two years, and a number of near misses," Glassberg said.

On Wednesday, Twin City Western Railroad, CP Rail Police and Hopkins Police will conduct a crossing enforcement detail from 3 to 6 p.m. at the intersection of Excelsior Boulevard and Jackson Avenue, a confusing intersection near the Cargill headquarters where a number of incidents have occurred and motorists have been spotted stopping on the tracks or in the wrong place.

"It's a rough intersection. That is why people have been hit," Glassberg said. "We will be stopping drivers and likely educating them more than citing them, unless their violations are serious or reckless."

The overarching goal, however, is to create awareness about how dangerous railroad crossings can be, he said.

Last year, 232 people were fatally injured in rail crossing accidents, according to the US DOT. This year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) launched a two-year effort to reduce accidents and fatalities at railroad crossings and advise motorists to use caution when approaching crossings.

The campaign called  “Stop! Trains Can’t” reminds drivers that trains cannot swerve, stop quickly or change directions to avert collisions. a freight train traveling at 55 miles per hour takes a mile to stop once the emergency brakes are applied, the DOT said.

By law, trains have the right of way. The campaign also reminds drivers to:
•    Slow down, look both ways and listen
•    Not enter the crossing unless they can make it completely across
•    Never race a train
•    Never stop on tracks

“Education is key here – sometimes a driver is distracted, or in an unfamiliar area. Other times, the state highway department has not done enough to warn drivers they are approaching a crossing,” said FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “We must do everything we can to give drivers the information they need to keep themselves and their families safe, and this helps us do just that."