Two words might best describe the quarter-mile stretch of Hwy. 252 between Interstate 694 and 66th Avenue N. in Brooklyn Center: congested and dangerous.
Northbound traffic coming off westbound I-94 whizzes along at freeway speeds. Meanwhile, motorists entering the highway from westbound I-694 attempt to slice their way across three lanes of traffic to make a left turn at 66th. Compounding matters is a traffic light at 66th Avenue that can bring traffic to a sudden halt, leading to big backups during peak periods.
All that chaos and conflict produces an inordinate number of crashes, too.
Between 2011 and 2015, 207 crashes were reported at the intersection, which handles more than 67,000 vehicles a day. It ranked second worst in the state and first in the metro area in terms of the costs in damages and injuries — an average of $1.5 million a year. That’s first out of about 8,000 intersections in a state database, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
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Since 2003, there have been at least two fatalities at the intersection, records show.
“It sees more crashes than you would expect” for an intersection of that type, said MnDOT traffic specialist Chad Erickson.
For more than two years there has been talk of removing that troublesome traffic signal and replacing it with a full-service interchange with an overpass and loops.
Of course, redoing the intersection would be expensive, costing close to $35 million, said Mike Albers, a city engineer overseeing the project.
So far, the city has been able to secure a $7 million regional grant and a $10 million Minnesota Highway Freight Program grant. The city of Brooklyn Center has budgeted $10.6 million of its own funds, meaning there is still a multimillion-dollar gap.
“We’re scrounging behind the couch for money,” said city Public Works Director Doran Cote.
A new interchange at 66th Avenue is part of a larger plan on the drawing board to transform the expressway into a freeway between 66th Avenue and Hwy. 610, a few miles to the north in Brooklyn Park.
The highway varies from four to six lanes along that stretch and includes other at-grade interchanges that are among the 100 most dangerous in the state. They include 85th Avenue (No. 9), 73rd Avenue (No. 12), Brookdale Drive (No. 67) and Humboldt Avenue (No. 86).
Four concepts being considered include removing traffic signals at those intersections and replacing them with interchanges, as well as closing off some access points, like the one at 70th Avenue.
Down the road, MnDOT also is looking to add a MnPass lane that would run along I-94 from downtown Minneapolis up to Hwy. 252 and continue north up to Hwy. 610.
Last week the Hennepin County Board approved agreements with MnDOT and the cities of Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park to upgrade the corridor. In September, the Federal Highway Administration recommended that the project begin its next step of preparing an environmental document that will outline potential environmental impacts and strategies to mitigate them.
Construction would not begin until 2021 at the earliest. In the meantime, MnDOT says it plans to hold meetings this spring or summer to gather input from residents and commuters.
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