The frequency of accidents at the intersection of County Road 5 (Nowthen Boulevard) and Alpine Drive in Ramsey has decreased since a four-way stop sign was installed seven years ago.
However, the Anoka County Highway Department had a long-term vision to install a traffic signal to make the intersection even safer.
“This is an unsafe intersection and we are proposing what we feel is the safest solution we can out there with what we have to work with,” said Curt Kobilarcsik, an engineering program manager with the Anoka County Highway Department.
Kobilarcsik told the Ramsey City Council during its Dec. 10 meeting that the challenges are that “it’s a skewed intersection. There are many accesses at the intersection. There are high speeds along with as well.”
This project would mirror what happened at another major intersection just west of here. There used to be two-way stop signs on Alpine Drive at both Sunfish Lake Boulevard and Nowthen Boulevard until the frequency of accidents resulted in the need for four-way stops, county officials have said.
Two years ago, the county hired Forest Lake Contracting for about $1.25 million to install a traffic signal and make other intersection improvements at Alpine Drive-Sunfish Lake Boulevard. A federal grant covered 90 percent of the project costs.
Federal funding will cover up to $936,000 of the projected $1,692,666 cost to upgrade the intersection of Alpine Drive and Nowthen Boulevard. The city would be responsible for $226,014 of that if the current cost projection holds.
The Ramsey City Council Dec. 10 tabled a joint powers agreement with the county because there are unanswered questions, such as whether the county would lose the federal funds if medians are not included.
According to county records, there were 26 accidents at this intersection from January 2000 to the time the four-way stop sign was in place Nov. 13, 2006. Since then, 17 accidents have been reported.
Matt Tews has lived in the area for 10 years. He sees the need for a traffic signal every day when he has trouble turning onto Nowthen Boulevard, especially in the morning when southbound traffic going to Ramsey Elementary School is mixed with commuters.
Although a traffic signal would result in vehicles being closer together as they head south, Tews believes it would provide some break in the traffic when cars are waiting at a red light.
“I’m all for the traffic signal so that there isn’t a vehicle coming every 12 seconds,” he said.
Dan Leavell, who just moved to the area 14 months ago, believes the county should be focusing its efforts on improving traffic flow at the intersection of Highway 47 and Bunker Lake Boulevard.
Tews said medians make it difficult to navigate this intersection and hopes medians will not block his ability to turn left on Nowthen Boulevard from his neighborhood street of 151st Lane.
The preliminary layout shows that the residential developments in which Leavell and Tews live would not have medians limiting their access, but three residential properties and one business by the intersection would be limited to right-in, right-out, according to City Engineer Bruce Westby.
“I’ve spoken to six affected property owners and let me assure you they do not agree that this is a good idea. I think the medians have to come out,” said Councilmember Chris Riley.
The county’s position on multiple projects along county roads has been that medians are necessary to prevent vehicles from turning left onto county roads at the busiest accesses and to keep traffic separated to reduce the likelihood of head-on crashes.
Councilmember David Backous said he did not have the time to speak to the property owners and nobody called him with concerns. He believes the impact of the medians would be minimal.
“Generally I’m absolutely against medians, but in this case it didn’t seem like there were too many affected properties and this is going to be a major intersection if it isn’t already,” Backous said.
On the southeast corner of this intersection is the old municipal center site and current home a fire station. The city has been exploring the possibility of marketing the site for a data center.
Mayor Sarah Strommen asked Kobilarcsik what the county’s long-term plan was for Nowthen Boulevard and whether the speed limit could be lowered. She said the Nowthen Boulevard-Sunwood Drive intersection “is no picnic either,” especially in the winter when it is difficult for drivers to take a left onto Nowthen Boulevard from this side street with their tires spinning in the snow. She has seen traffic backing up significantly on Sunwood Drive as people wait to make their turn.
“I live right off (County Road) 5 and I question the 50 mph speed limit. You’ve got an access to a number of neighborhoods, you have the school and a number of homes with direct access,” Strommen said.
Kobilarcsik said the Minnesota Department of Transportation sets speed limits. The county and city could request a speed study be done, but the speed limit could possibly increase. He said he cannot answer specifically the long-term plan is for Nowthen Boulevard, but said generally the county has used medians in urban areas.
“We’ve designed (the intersection) for the speeds out there today,” Kobilarcsik said.
Kobilarcsik said he would check if the removal of medians would mean the loss of the $936,000 federal government grant, but he said this funding is ultimately contingent on both the county and city approving a joint powers agreement to settle issues like this and cost sharing.
“The project would essentially go away,” Kobilarcsik said. “We need the support of our project partner to move forward. If we don’t have that support then we are not able to get those dollars.”
Backous asked if the project did not happen now, “what are the odds that we are going to be able to get another million dollars from the federal government for this?”
Kobilarcsik replied, “Very slim. This money would go elsewhere so at that point it would become a locally funded project. It would be the city and county paying the out of pocket the entire amount for the project.”
Mark Martensen’s main concern is a trail and how an extension of the city trunk water main will affect his septic system. None of this was mentioned in information he received from the county because the city is taking the lead on these issues, said Westby,
Numerous trails exist in the area but the trail on the north side of Alpine Drive ends approximately 100 feet west of Krypton Street just before it gets to Nowthen Boulevard, he said.
“I have serious privacy and safety concerns about passing that through 15 feet from my daughter’s bedroom,” Martensen said. He said he is still uneasy after hearing about a reported assault of a woman on a Ramsey trail earlier this year.
Martensen believes the traffic signal is unnecessary and questions how many of the 17 accidents reported in the last seven years were a result of weather. With people trying to beat a red light, he does not think a traffic signal would improve safety.
Phillip VanGorp, who has lived in the neighborhood on the northeast corner of the intersection since 2008, thinks the project is a good idea.
“There’s a lot of traffic that goes through there,” he said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org