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New construction design in Minnesota is saving lives

Rather than crossing both lanes of traffic, reduced conflict intersections require drivers to make a U-turn to reach the opposite lane. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Transportation1 / 2
Reduced conflict intersections, like this one in Cologne, will be constructed for at least 20 intersections in Minnesota over the next five years. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Transportation2 / 2

A new intersection design aimed at curbing fatalities is on the rise in Minnesota.

Currently, 12 Reduced Conflict Intersections (RCIs) are scattered across the state, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to nearly triple the amount in the next five years.

RCIs consist of multi-lane high speed expressways. Drivers can use these to turn left or right from the minor roadway onto the expressway or travel straight through an intersection by using the all four-expressway lanes.  

The first RCI was built in Willmar in 2010. Now, the state is looking to build 20 more in the next five years.

By eliminating exposure to the most common type of crash in Minnesota, the broadside collision, drivers now complete a series of maneuvers that reduce the possibility of an accident.

“Reduced conflict intersections have firmly shown to reduce deaths, injuries and crashes. That’s why we want to keep building them,” said Derek Leuer, assistant state traffic safety engineer. “The other benefits are that they are faster to build and cost less than a typical interchange.”

According to the new study by MnDOT, Minnesota has seen a 100 percent reduction of fatal and serious injury right-angle crashes. This also includes a 77 percent reduction of all severity right-angle crashes and a 50 percent reduction of injury crashes.

“One (intersection) on Cologne Highway 212 before the RCI had a fatal about once per year until 2012,” Leuer said. “Since then we’ve had one right-angle crash.”

Given the financial setbacks transportation funding has seen in Minnesota, RCI’s has proven to be an important alternative to help improve the safety of intersections on expressways.

Leuer said the cost is about a tenth of an interchange, one of the alternative solutions for problematic intersections. The other common alternative is traffic signals.

Admittedly, Leuer said, there has been a bit of a learning curve for drivers hitting the new RCIs, but it’s very similar to the path it took to familiarize the public with roundabouts around 20 years ago.

At public comment sessions, he said there has been a turn toward the positive, with people admitting that through they are “unconventional and goofy,” RCIs are a safe solution.

Drivers of semi trucks and other large vehicles did push back against the design at first, arguing that they would not be able to take the U-turn loop safely, but Leuer said the traffic engineers are required to make it safe for certain vehicles when designing new roadways.

“We haven’t noticed any real major issues,” Leuer said. “One reason it’s taken a while to catch on is it’s hard to figure out how it would work; it’s very counterintuitive.”

The first signalized RCI in the state will likely be built next year, at Highway 65 and Viking Boulevard in East Bethel. Leuer said they chose to add signals here because there is significantly more traffic at that location than other RCI intersections.

“It will reduce amount of waiting, for pretty much everyone,” he said.

Leuer said there are also several RCIs tentatively planned for Highway 52 in Dakota County, that could be constructed as early as next year.

Highway 110 and Charlton Street in West St. Paul, and Highway 110 and Crown Point Plaza in Mendota Heights — just east of Highway 35 — are also set for the RCI treatment in 2018.

Reduced conflict intersection locations

Willmar, County Road 24

Cologne, Highway 212 and Highway 284

Ham Lake, Highway 65 and 169th Avenue

Cotton, Highway 53 and County Road 52

Lake Elmo, Highway 36 and Demontreville Trail

Saint Peter, Highway 169 and Highway 22

Saint Peter, Highway 169 and St. Julien Street

Pequot Lakes, Highway 371 and County Road 168

Pequot Lakes, Highway 371 and County Road 112

Marshall, Highway 23 and Saratoga Street

Vermillion, U.S. Highway 52 and CSAH 66

Eagle Lake, U.S. Highway 14 and CSAH 17

Jordan, U.S. Highway 169 and Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store

Tentative RCI locations

West St. Paul, Highway 110 and Charlson

Mendota Heights, Highway 110 and Crown Point Plaza

Dakota County, Highway 52 and various undetermined streets

Wabasha, US 61 and three undetermined streets

East Bethel, Highway 65 and Viking Boulevard

Heron Lake, MN 60 and CSAH 24

Heron Lake, MN 60 and CSAH 9

Grange Township, MN 23 and CSAH 7

Marshall, MN 23 and Lyon Street

Glencoe, US 212 and CSAH 1

Dahlgren Township, US 212 and CSAH 36

Willmar, US 71 and CSAH 90

Ham Lake, MN 65 and 157th Avenue

Ham Lake, MN 65 and 187th Avenue

Ham Lake, MN 65 and 181st Avenue

Ham Lake, MN 65 and 153rd Avenue

Ham Lake, MN 65 and 143rd Avenue

Becker, US 10 and Sherburne Avenue

Isanti, MN 65 and Cajima Street

Princeton, US 169 and CSAH 12 (80th Street)

Princeton, US 169 and CSAH 13 (55th Street)

Rockville, MN 23 and CSAH 6

Mille Lacs, US 169 and CSAH 11

Brainerd, MN 371 and County Road 126

Brainerd, MN 371 and CSAH 125

Pequot Lakes, MN 371 and CSAH 107

Pequot Lakes, MN 371 and Ackerson Road

Twig, US 53 and CSAH 7

Crookston, US 71 and US 75

Braham, MN 65 and MN 107

Kit Murray contributed to this story.