A hazardous crosswalk in St. Francis could see some welcome fixes in the coming months, as state and local officials tackle safety issues along the stretch of Hwy. 47 that runs through the northern Anoka County suburb.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is fast-tracking work on the corridor, including the intersection of Hwy. 47 and Pederson Drive NW., where two teens were hit and seriously injured as they crossed the busy four-lane stretch in November.
MnDOT is now working with Anoka County and St. Francis to move ahead with a study on Hwy. 47 within the city limits, between Cree Street NW. and Ambassador Boulevard. State officials said they hope to pick an engineering solution that best suits the whole corridor and find funding in time for construction to begin in 2021.
“Normally our process takes five years to complete,” Melissa Barnes, MnDOT’s north area engineer, told the St. Francis City Council at a meeting earlier this month. “We have really accelerated this.”
In the meantime, MnDOT has been working on some interim fixes, including LED message signs where Hwy. 47 winds into St. Francis that warn drivers to watch their speed and keep an eye out for pedestrians.
State officials plan to install other signs in the coming months that alert motorists of their exact speed as they cruise into town. A temporary traffic signal also is in the works for Pederson Drive NW., where Hwy. 47 separates St. Francis Middle School from a popular strip mall across the street.
“We want to stress that it’s temporary,” Barnes said at the Jan. 7 meeting. “We want to make sure we understand the entire corridor.”
Middle schoolers Annie LaMotte and Kaia Bollmann were headed back to school on Nov. 20 after grabbing a bite at McDonald’s when they were struck and injured. The teens had pushed the traffic signal button at the crosswalk and waited for the yellow lights to blink overhead before stepping into the road.
The crash rattled the community and fueled a petition, a rally and widespread calls for action at the Pederson and Hwy. 47 intersection, which had a long history of trouble before the teens were hit there.
From 2008 to March 2018, there were 16 crashes at the intersection, according to MnDOT. None of the crashes involved pedestrians, though two involved bicyclists.
Cars regularly cruise at 50 mph, and residents say the busy highway that cuts through town also acts as a dangerous barrier in an area dotted by schools and houses.
MnDOT has launched a website with project details and will field input at community listening sessions in the coming months as officials weigh solutions for the whole corridor.
At the recent City Council meeting, Mayor Steve Feldman applauded the state for fast-tracking the project.
“The talking has to stop, and the action has to start,” Feldman said. “We have to do this right.”