Just how dangerous is traveling on or crossing Minnesota Highway 23 around Marshall? Dangerous enough that a group from the University of Minnesota has chosen the four-lane highway's intersection with Lyon County Road 7 as one of three places in Minnesota where it will conduct a collision avoidance study.
The University of Minnesota's Center for Transportation Studies is installing and evaluating a Rural Intersection Collision Avoidance System (RICAS) at the intersection, beginning in April 2011.
"As traffic engineers, we get together twice a year, and at one of our meetings we were told about this research being done by the university; they asked if we had a location we thought would be a good candidate and we had done a safety study on this intersection, so we said, 'Yeah, we have one,'" MnDOT District 8 Traffic Engineer John Henslin said. "A number of cities volunteered sites and they checked them over and said (the Highway 23/CR 7 intersection) looks like a good candidate."
Good, in this case, meaning bad. The intersection has developed somewhat of a bad reputation because of the high number of accidents that occur there.
Lyon County Engineer Suhail Kanwar isn't convinced the project will fully address the safety situation at the intersection but is glad to see the state taking notice of rural transportation concerns.
"They are paying attention," Kanwar said. "That's one big outcome of this process. But I'm hoping they do more than this. This is not enough if you ask me. This (23/7) is the second worst in rural areas in the state. It's a four-lane highway with a very smooth surface; you're literally setting your drivers up to drive faster. We need to do something and this is the first step in that direction, but I'm not sure if this is the solution. MnDOT sounds like they want to do more, so we'll see if this helps."
The Rural Intersection Collision Avoidance System will use sensors on the highway to determine the position, travel lane and speed of vehicles approaching an intersection.
The system computes the data to assess the threat level for vehicles crossing the highway. The Highway 23 and Lyon County Road 7 intersection was selected because it has a higher-than-average crash rate.
Prior to full implementation, the system will be tested by approximately 30 local citizens who will have equipment installed in their vehicles to gather data and refine the system's reliability.
The RICAS research project is being funded by the Federal Highway Administration and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
The Senate Appropriations Committee's transportation appropriations bill for 2011, released in July, included $1 million for new transportation infrastructure in Lyon County -?funding that would help cover planning and preparation for an interchange at the intersection.
The interchange project, which Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee member Steve Strautz said in July has support from Minnesota U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, is one of a number of projects on the radar of the transportation committee. It's estimated the project would cost up to $6 million, but $1 million would help cover engineering and land acquisition costs.