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Updated: 03/25/2013 8:45 AM
Created: 03/21/2013 11:17 AM | Print |  Email
By: Beth McDonough

Highway in Lake Elmo Raises Safety Concerns for Drivers

East metro residents have safety concerns and they're calling for change.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is listening.

On any given day, 35,000 drivers use State Highway 36 - making it one of the busiest east metro highways. This month, it's also one of the most talked about because of two high-profile crashes in two days.

"I don't like 36, it's too crazy, too fast," said Linda Nehring.

Sometimes its dangerous, and lately it's been deadly.

"I'm not surprised by that, I think the potential is there for a lot more accidents like that," Nehring said. After a close call herself, Linda Nehring goes out of her way to avoid the intersection of Highway 36 and Manning in Lake Elmo, even though she lives right next to it.

"It's too heavily traveled and too many stop lights and stop lights get run all the time," she said.

Troopers say that's what happened when a minivan driver tried to beat a red light and broad sided John Larson's car, killing the volunteer Scandia firefighter. The next day at the same intersection, another crash with injuries.

The corridor averages about 10 to 15 crashes a year, according to state records. It's not the best or the worst intersection for motorists, but troopers understand how folks can be caught off guard because of dramatic changes in the speed limit.

At one intersection, it's 65 mph. At another, it drops to 40 mph.

Lt. Jeff Schroepfer of the Minnesota State Patrol said he understands, "This is an odd road for most metro people, it's kind of out in the country so it's a big wide open road, very busy, they're not used to speed changes coming up to an intersection."

Plus, there are synchronized stop lights, one after the other - six in all - heading east through North St. Paul, Lake Elmo, Stillwater and Oak Park Heights. Drivers say backups are a big problem. Emails are coming into MnDot, and complaints are getting louder.

Nearby residents want action.

"There's always room for improvement and we've got a number of projects this year to make improvements to that corridor," said Adam Josephson, of MnDot.

After every fatal accident, MnDot officials say the agency does a safety analysis at a scene.  And points out, traffic signals will be replaced with roundabouts and turn lanes will be added at several intersections this year.

That's a relief for Nehring. "People have to slow down when they're approaching those you can't go through those at 70 mph like you can a stop light. You have no choice."

While MnDot can improve operational issues with intersections, it can't fix driver error.

"These particular crashes were both related to driver error," Josephson said.

It's not clear if criminal charges will be filed against the driver who hit and killed John Larson.

MnDot officials also said the agency taking a closer look at frontage road access in Lake Elmo and traffic issues along the St. Croix River crossing.