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MnDOT looking at Highway 197 access

Of more than 400 crashes on Highway 197 in a three-year period, more than 100 involved injuries.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is examining a six-mile stretch of Highway 197/Paul Bunyan Drive/Bemidji Avenue to consider whether there are too many accesses on the roadway, which may contribute to a higher-than-average number of crashes.

MnDOT has hired Alliant Engineering Inc. to complete the access management study. While a public open house will be held Feb. 28 to release the findings and recommendations, Bob Green from Alliant Engineering and Mike Kamnikar from MnDOT made a presentation Monday to the Bemidji City Council.

"When we get driveways and accesses too close together, it can cause problems," Green said.

The study considers a six-mile stretch of Highway 197, which is segmented into three parts for examination: the southeast segment is from the intersection of U.S. highways 2 and 71 to First Street, the central segment is from First Street to 23rd Street and the northwest segment is from U.S. Highway 71 to Bemidji Avenue.

From 2004-06, researchers found that the total number of accidents on Highway 197 was 408, of which 111 involved injuries to at least one person.

"We're definitely seeing a crash problem out there today," Green said, noting that the number of accidents and their severity are above statewide averages.

Contributing to the number of accidents, he said, is that left-turns onto Highway 197 are difficult to make at non-signaled intersections, and rear-end crashes seem to be occurring due to right-turns off of 197 at access points.

He reported that Highway 197 also had anywhere between 8,000 and 26,000 vehicles a day in 2006 -- and is expected to carry 15,000 to 38,000 vehicles a day in 2030.

Green said he was surprised to learn that the central segment carries more traffic than the northwest segment (17,000 to 26,000 versus 13,000 to 21,000).

The central segment has better access control and fewer private accesses to 197, he noted.

The study has determined that there is a direct correlation between the number of access points and the crash rate on Highway 197, Green said.

In the two-mile southeast segment, there are 89 accesses to Highway 197. The central segment has 125 in its 2.4 miles, and the northwest segment has 100 in 1.7 miles.

All three are above the MnDOT recommendations, which would recommend 70 accesses for the southeast segment, 84 for the central and 60 for the northwest.

"There are more access points than what would be recommended by the guidelines," Green said.


Several ideas for solutions were presented -- but Green emphasized that none was being proposed to be implemented tomorrow.

It was more a plan for where the city should strive to be in 30 years, Green explained.

Highway 197 is being reconstructed this coming spring/summer from Third Street to 23rd Street, during which the city will update and replace sewer and water in those areas. However, access management is not planned to be part of the work.

Some of the access recommendations for Highway 197 require additional right-of-way, Green said.

For instance, a raised center median has been considered for several portions that would prohibit left-turns to or from 197.

"Everything would be right-in, right-out," explained City Engineer Craig Gray.

Another idea was to improve and add additional frontage or "backage" roads along Highway 197.

Green explained that businesses or homeowners would use supporting roads to meet a signaled intersection to gain access to Highway 197.

Another idea involved the realignment of existing roads and the movement of existing signal lights.

Adoption of the recommendations would result in a 20 to 40 percent reduction in crashes, 30 to 50 percent reduction in injuries and 10 to 20 percent increase in the roadway capacity, according to the presentation.

Council reaction

The City Council was receptive to the plan, but questioned how such improvements would be made -- and financed.

Kamnikar explained that the recommendations are just a plan for the ideal future.

"You've got to be able to ... be flexible with it," he said.

The ideal way to implement changes, the presenters said, is gradually.

Councilor Nancy Erickson visibly balked when Green suggested that a row of houses might need to be removed at some point in the future in order to widen the roadway to accommodate suggested improvements, such as a 6-foot-wide raised median.

But, he again stressed that he was proposing ideas, none of which was being asked to be adopted immediately.

More information

More details on the study are available online at

An open house is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. Feb. 28 at MnDOT in Bemidji.