Representing the best interests of an entire city can be difficult, as elected officials weigh the needs and wants of residents, businesses and property owners, which may have competing interests.
While it was a tough decision, we believe the International Falls City Council Monday made the right one when it consented to a plan designed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to reconstruct U.S. Highway 53, and the surrounding landscape, from south of Memorial Drive to Second Avenue.
This is a big project, with city officials involved in its planning for more than one year. Like most projects that involve government funding, not everyone gets what they want and that’s the case here.
At issue for some businesses, residents and city officials was MnDOT’s plan to remove the traffic signal at Seventh Street, citing the need for the signal to accommodate transportation issues involved with future plans of nearby businesses.
We, too, take those concerns seriously. We want these businesses to be successful, for the benefit of everyone.
However, MnDOT, which will provide the great majority of money for the project, points to traffic counts, and other standards it uses in warranting the placement or maintenance of traffic signals. And, as councilors noted, the Seventh Street signal isn’t warranted by those standards.
Clearly, MnDOT listened to the city on design aspects the officials wanted retained, among them the traffic signal at 11th Street. Despite not meeting some of the warrants, MnDOT agreed to keep the signal there because of its use by students, cross-town traffic, nearby amenities such as those in Kerry Park, among other reasons.
In addition, MnDOT told the council the design will address safety issues by reducing lane width that will result in traffic “calming,” with motorists driving slower. And, it said eliminating one driving lane in each direction where the highway now is five lanes will also “calm” traffic.
MnDOT notes that signals are not used as safety devices, and in almost all cases crashes increase when a signal is installed. Removing unwarranted signals can reduce crash rates by 24 percent and specifically rear-end crashes by 29 percent.
Instead, it said signals are used as a device to assign right of way when traffic volumes reach certain thresholds, or warrants, and excessive travel delays occur.
While the removal of the signal is a disappointment and a concern for some, we believe for the good of the community, the city had to accept the state’s plan.
And, we encourage officials to monitor that intersection following the signal removal, and if needed, consider steps that may improve the situation.