In response to citizen complaints about traffic signal timing along Highway 65 and its major cross streets, the Blaine City Council Oct. 4 adopted a resolution requesting that the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) take another look at signal timing at nine intersections between 85th and 117th avenues.
While many people contacted for a Blaine city survey were very pleased with the quality of development in Blaine and its overall cleanliness and appearance, a majority were not very happy about traffic. Only 39 percent said that traffic flow on major streets was excellent or good and only 33 percent thought highly of traffic flow at intersections.
Terry Lastovich often sees people running red lights when he is trying to turn south on 65 from Cloud Drive. It is not uncommon for him to sit through two red lights before he can head south.
Sally and Steve Simmer said “it’s horrendous” to try to head north on 65 from 99th Avenue. So many vehicles build up that they go into the center lane where traffic crosses 65. They would like to see the city allow traffic to cross 65 or turn left from the center turn lane so that there would essentially be two left turn lanes at the west side of this intersection.
Mayor Tom Ryan said traffic signal timing along Highway 65 and its cross streets “is probably the number one issue in this city right now.”
Too much traffic
Kevin Schwartz, a signal optimization engineer for MnDOT, told ABC Newspapers that MnDOT has already begun placing cameras at intersections along major state corridors like highways 65, 7, 13, and 55 to watch what is happening and adjust individual signals when it makes sense.
However, Schwartz said traffic signal timing is not the problem along Highway 65. The issue is both Highway 65 in Blaine and the major cross streets have too many vehicles going through.
“Right now we’re maxed out for capacity at the signals,” he said.
According to Schwartz, just this past summer MnDOT hired a consultant to look at traffic signal timing along Highway 65 from I-694 in southern Fridley to 237th Avenue in northern East Bethel. The consultant used a software program that acknowledged traffic on 65 would need more time to get through during rush hours, but that cross street traffic also needed a chance to get to where they needed to go.
In fact, Schwartz said the signals along the Highway 65 corridor have seven different timing patterns for different periods of the day.
Councilmember Wes Hovland believes that MnDOT has optimized the signals for 65 traffic as best as they can, but not for the cross traffic.
Councilmember Dick Swanson said this was the issue that Blaine residents brought up the most when he was door knocking. Some residents claimed to have waited 12 to 15 minutes just to cross Highway 65.
Blaine City Engineer Jean Keely said an interchange could eventually be constructed at 109th Avenue. When that happens, 105th Avenue could become an overpass and lose its direct access to 65.
This is similar to what happened further north when Main Street became an interchange and 121st Avenue/Paul Parkway and 129th Avenue became overpasses.
“We made the development improvements along 65, but we surely didn’t make accessibility easy for the citizens of Blaine,” Councilmember Kathy Kolb said.
It can take her 30 minutes to get to Blaine City Hall, she said. Her home is three miles away and west of Highway 65 while city hall is east of Highway 65, Kolb said.
Councilmember Dave Clark said he is grateful for the three bridges at and near Main Street because traffic on Highway 65 used to be a “rolling parking lot.”
Clark said maybe the survey results would point out to MnDOT that it is not just the council asking for this to be done.
While an interchange and another overpass could help, it is very expensive, and MnDOT does not have this project on its upcoming plans list, Keely said.
Traffic on Highway 65 has increased in some areas between 1999 and 2011, but the side streets that access Highway 65 such as 105th and 109th avenues have seen larger percentage spikes, according to traffic counts conducted by MnDOT.
In 1999, 109th Avenue east of Highway 65 had an average daily traffic count of 7,600 vehicles. This increased to 16,200 vehicles per day by 2011. East of Highway 65 on 105th Avenue, which goes to the National Sports Center, average traffic per day increased from 4,450 vehicles in 1999 to 10,000 vehicles in 2011.
Although traffic is obviously heavier on Highway 65 with 2011 counts ranging from 36,000 vehicles per day north of 117th Avenue to 55,000 vehicles per day south of 99th Avenue, these numbers have remained fairly consistent. The largest increase was south of 99th Avenue, which saw about 10,000 less vehicles a day in 1999 than in 2011, according to MnDOT’s traffic study.
Another fact to consider is that the service road on the west side of Highway 65 between 109th and 125th avenues did not exist in 1999, and Davenport Street did not connect with 109th Avenue at that time. These projects were meant to alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 65.
According to MnDOT’s traffic count, Davenport Street has about 11,200 vehicles north of 109th Avenue and 8,200 vehicles a day south of 109th. On the other side of 65, the service road averaged between 3,250 and 6,200 vehicles per day with traffic more concentrated between 117th and 125th avenues. The traffic count did note that Main Street west of 65 was under reconstruction at this time.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org