After three multi-vehicle crashes in the span of a month at the intersection of County Road 3 and Highway 55, including one incident resulting in the death of an Annandale woman, public officials and highway engineers are planning a discussion about what options might be available to improve safety there. The impetus for the gathering is coming from Malco Products, Inc., a large employer located at the intersection that helps contribute high traffic volumes to an otherwise rural location. “The last accident involved one of our former associates who has retired,” said Malco President Mardon Quandt. “I don’t know how many years he has driven by that intersection, and then somebody pulled out in front of him and he ended up in the hospital. So it’s affecting people we know. It’s sad.”
Quandt said the meeting, set for this Friday was organized because “we’re seeing the increase in incidents and have concern for our employees and the community in general. A number of associates have commented throughout the years, ‘Well, I had a close call once pulling out of Malco.’ Now these last three accidents have spurred us to say, ‘OK, we need to see if we can push forward some action.'”
Those who have confirmed that they will attend the meeting include U.S. Congressman-elect Tom Emmer, Sen. Bruce Anderson, Rep. Joe McDonald, Wright County Commissioner Christine Husom, Sheriff Joe Hagerty, Wright County Highway Engineer Virgil Hawkins and James Gillach and Tom Dumont of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Dumont, who is a traffic engineer for MnDOT overseeing a 12-county district, said the intersection, along with several others along Highway 55, has been on the state’s radar screen as a safety concern for some time.
After the recent spike in incidents there, he reviewed the last 10 years of accident reports at the County Road 3 site and found that the intersection averaged two crashes of any kind per year in the last five years, and 2.7 annual crashes over the past decade. “The interesting thing I found was that there were no severe crashes in the last 10 years there. There were crashes, but there were no fatalities or Type A crashes, close to a fatality,” Dumont said. “Well, now in the last month there was the fatality and these other two. From the State Patrol, they weren’t the severe type either, but nonetheless they were right-angle crashes.”
Challenges to drivers at the intersection are varied. There are no left turn lanes off of Highway 55, and with the train tracks located so close to the highway vehicles making a left turn onto County Road 3 sometimes are stopped on the highway while trains pass through. In those situations and during normal traffic movement, drivers will sometimes use the right turn lanes as bypass lanes to get around vehicles slowing to make a left turn off Highway 55.
According to Allison Barkley, who lives a short distance south of the intersection on County Road 3, drivers waiting for trains will sometimes use the Malco parking lot to get off the main road, but then have to cross Highway 55 to resume traveling south. Simply crossing the road can be dangerous because of high traffic volumes, high speed and poor sightlines caused by the skewed angle of the county road to Highway 55.”I use the intersection at least twice a day and have always felt uneasy at that intersection … in all honesty, I don’t even try to cross the highway in the summer,” she said. Husom agreed.
“It is one of those intersections where I, personally, am very cautious,” she said. “Why things have happened just recently, I don’t know. Hopefully it’s just an unusual set of circumstances, but it’s worth looking at.”