Upgrades are just down the road for two notorious Detroit Lakes intersections
Two of Detroit Lakes' most hated Highway 10 intersections — those at County Highway 54 and Kris Street — will be getting some upgrades to improve safety and reduce long wait times.
Early next summer, work will begin on the installation of stoplights at the Highway 54 intersection, which has long had a reputation as a hairy place to try and cross the busy, four-lane U.S. Highway 10.
As soon as those stoplights are in, work at the Kris Street intersection will begin. It'll be reconstructed into a simpler design with fewer signals to hold up traffic — a redo that will significantly reduce the notoriously long delays there, but at the expense of the ability for northside traffic to go left (east) onto Highway 10.
The projects were the subject of a public meeting Wednesday, July 10, at the Detroit Lakes City Office. They're considered the second and third phases of a greater three-phase roadwork and infrastructure improvement project that starts this summer: Phase I, slated to begin Monday, July 22, is a redo of the portion of Randolph Road that falls between the Highway 54 and Kris Street intersections. (Randolph Road runs parallel to Highway 10, just across the BNSF railroad tracks.)
The meeting room was full of people who have an interest or direct involvement in the project, including local residents, business owners, and also engineers and transportation officials with the city, county and state. Judging by the comments made and questions asked, people were absolutely in favor of adding stoplights at Highway 54; the reaction to the plans for Kris Street were more mixed.
"Everybody knows that intersection is tough — it is tough," said Detroit Lakes City Engineer Jon Pratt, referring to the Highway 54 interchange. "Anybody that's tried to pull even just a boat with their truck into that intersection knows ... sometimes they have to sit there for quite a while before they're comfortable trying to pull out."
Pratt led the meeting, joined by a handful of other project leaders including Tom Pace, the project manager with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Pace said a warning sign with a flashing light would be installed on westbound Highway 10 to alert drivers approaching Highway 54, so they'll know there's a stop coming up and can slow down accordingly.
"That'll be a nice thing, because it'll start to slow people down more...so cars don't go racing by at 70 miles per hour," Pace said.
He explained that the new traffic signals would be tied into the train signals, very similar to how the downtown crossing at Washington Avenue works now. There will also be crosswalks added at Highway 54, with pedestrian walk buttons.
People at the meeting agreed that the intersection is dangerous as is, with one man saying, "People avoid 54 like the plague," and another calling the new stoplights "real vital." But plans for the Kris Street interchange will increase traffic flow at the Highway 54 intersection, and people worried it would become a bottleneck, with long wait times.
Pratt said engineers predict the intersection improvements will actually reduce current wait times at both intersections — by 60-70% at Kris Street, and 20-30% at Highway 54.
As it is now, the Kris Street intersection involves not only Kris Street and Highway 10 but also Randolph Road and the railroad tracks that run between Randolph and the highway. There are traffic signals along both Randolph and Highway 10, and those signals are tied to each other as well as the train signals.
Reconstruction plans call for the removal of the stoplights at Randolph Road, and a simpler design of the Kris/Highway 10 interchange. The intersection will be reduced from a full access to a 3/4 access intersection, reducing or altogether eliminating the long delays there, but also removing the ability for traffic to turn east (left) onto Highway 10 from Kris Street/Randolph Road. .
At least one person at the meeting was not happy with this plan, calling it a "bad" idea.
Pratt said engineers looked at four different redesign options for the intersection, and they all had their challenges: "Ultimately, this was the best one," he said.
"It'll be a safer, more efficient, functioning intersection than what you have now," Pace added.
The Kris Street redo will push more traffic, particularly truck traffic from the Industrial Park, down Randolph Road to the Highway 54 intersection to access eastbound Highway 10. Residents at the meeting raised concerns about the increased number of semis that will be traveling down this road, and complained about how many vehicles already speed down Randolph.
Engineers said the reconstruction happening along Randolph Road this summer will address those concerns. Pratt said the road will be widened to 36 feet to better handle semi traffic, and will be built to withstand a greater volume of traffic. There'll also be 6-foot shoulders added to accommodate pedestrian and bike traffic, and curb and gutters will be installed.
It'll look more like an "in-town" road, Pace explained, which tends to make drivers slow down.
There will also be improvements made at the Randolph Road and Highland Drive intersection, making that a safer spot with better visibility.
Construction along Randolph Road will start July 22 and should be wrapped up by the end of September. During this time, the road will be closed to all except local traffic, which means homeowners in the construction area.
About mid-June of 2020, depending on the weather, the Highway 54 intersection will be closed during the stoplight installation, which will take at least a month. During this time, traffic will be flowed down Randolph Road (which will be reconstructed by then) to Kris Street for access to Highway 10.
When the Highway 54 intersection project is complete, work will begin at Kris Street. That part of the project will also take a month or more, and again, drivers will be directed to alternate routes.
"There'll be a lot of traffic impacts (in that area during construction)," Pratt said.
The projects were intentionally planned to be done one at a time, in order to allow for more reasonable detours and better traffic flow.