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Tim Harlow,

The Drive: Obstructed traffic lights a concern in Arden Hills

  • Article by: Tim Harlow
  • Star Tribune
  • March 30, 2014 - 8:53 PM

Traffic signals on westbound Ramsey County Road 96 where it intersects the exit ramp from eastbound Hwy. 10 are not operational yet, but drivers fear trouble when they are turned on.

Matt Rowles, who drives past the Arden Hills intersection almost daily, is concerned because the semaphores are obstructed by the new Hwy. 10 overpass that was put in last year when MnDOT resurfaced the diagonal highway between I-35W and I-694. The signals can’t be clearly seen until drivers are close to the intersection. Complicating matters is that motorists approaching the 10 and 96 interchange from the east can see over the bridge and eye the stoplights at W. Round Lake Blvd., the next intersection to the west, which sits at a higher elevation.

“That’s a 50 miles per hour zone, not enough time to react to a red light,” he said. “I figured MnDOT would have to provide some kind of warning.” Michael Gerbensky, MnDOT’s Metro District signal design and lighting management engineer, said the agency has been discussing the issue with Ramsey County and will install some type of flashers to augment “Signal Ahead” signs posted to warn drivers.

Beacon option

One of the options is a flashing yellow beacon, which MnDOT uses to supplement warning and regulatory signs and get motorists’ attention. Another is advance warning flashers, which are used at isolated or unexpected signalized intersections, those with limited sight distances or intersections with the potential for accidents. Motorists who travel on Hwy. 65 through Ham Lake and points north, and along Hwy. 169 approaching Jordan and Belle Plaine, have seen the system. It features a sign that reads “Prepare to Stop When Flashing.” The sign is connected to the traffic signal so that when it is green and about to turn yellow, a flasher comes on to warn approaching drivers of the light’s impending change and the need to stop.

“We are still looking at the location of the signs/flashers to determine what type should be used, warning beacons or advance warning flashers,” Gerbensky said.

The intersection of 10 and 96 is currently controlled by stop signs that are enhanced with flashing LED lights to get drivers’ attention. The traffic lights and those at Round Lake Blvd. will be turned on this spring.

Hard to predict

The County 96-Hwy. 10 interchange was constructed in a tight space and County 96 was lowered to allow Hwy. 10 to pass over it. On a map, it all looked fine, but sight and distance issues can be hard to predict simply by looking at a two-dimensional drawing, Gerbensky said. “Most times we know it may be close, but we have to build it to determine if exact field placement causes an issue. Most projects have more slack in the design for revised pole placement, but this job was very tight with little latitude for adjustment,” he said.

Ramsey County Senior Transportation Planner Joe Lux said the signals will likely be lowered a bit and fitted with bright fluorescent yellow borders to make them “pop.” Lux also said the county will request that MnDOT conduct a speed study to see if the 50-mph limit should be adjusted. Vehicles in the area may move a bit slower on their own if a proposed traffic signal to the east near North Heights Lutheran Church is installed.

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.

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