Mark Curran doesn’t live in Litchfield, but he believes he knows where the city’s most dangerous intersection is.
His daughter was involved in a crash there.
Fortunately, neither Curran’s daughter nor the driver of the other vehicle was seriously injured when they collided at the intersection of U.S. Highway 12 East and County State Aid Highway 34 recently. But Curran, an Eden Valley resident, thinks a more serious result could be only a matter of time.
“It is an extremely dangerous intersection in my opinion,” Curran said during an appearance at the Litchfield City Council meeting Feb. 1. “I’m just trying to draw attention to a problem.”
Curran is not alone, of course.
The 12/34 intersection has been a topic of conversation for many years, discussion that has only increased as Litchfield’s commercial district has extended east. CSAH 34 traffic heading south arrives at a “T” with a stop sign at the intersection with U.S. Highway 12. With high volumes of east-west traffic on the federal highway, turning — especially left turns — from CSAH 34 can be a nerve-racking experience. The busy intersection’s pitfalls are exacerbated by a frontage road that runs parallel to Highway 12 and dumps on to CSAH 34 within feet of the 12/34 exchange.
Mayor Keith Johnson acknowledged the intersection has been “a concern for years,” while also pointing to the Precision Drive -U.S. Highway 12 intersection as problematic. The city’s ability to do anything — beyond raising the issue with the Minnesota Department of Transportation — is limited, Johnson said.
During reconstruction of North Sibley Avenue/Highway 12 this past summer in downtown Litchfield, MnDOT — in recognition of the likely increased traffic on CSAH 34 due to the detour around the construction zone — installed a traffic light at the intersection.
But when construction concluded in September, MnDOT removed the traffic light.
At the time, City Council member Darlene Kotelnicki asked during a Council meeting what could be done to keep the light in place. Other Council members replied that what they’d heard the intersection would be part of a highway improvement plan later in the decade. Given that, it seemed unlikely MnDOT would leave the light in place or provide any other changes to the intersection.
That line of thinking was repeated during last week’s City Council meeting.
Highway 12 is scheduled for an upgrade from Holcombe Avenue in Litchfield all the way to Cokato, beginning in 2023, according to Councilor Eric Mathwig.
City Administrator Dave Cziok told the City Council that MnDOT performed an intersection control evaluation, or ICE, in 2016, with a number of options considered, including stoplight, three-way stop and roundabout.
“At that point in time, there was a favoritism for a roundabout,” Cziok said, however, there was not enough space to accommodate a traffic circle, with the intersection surrounded by the railroad on the south, and private properties on the northwest and northeast.
Cziok suggested the city collaborate with Meeker County officials, so they could have their interests represented when MnDOT begins planning.
“It’s not our intersection,” Cziok said. “We don’t have any authority to put up any stoplight. Even speed control is not our authority.”