Where Washington County Road 91 (Lofton Avenue) meets Minnesota State Highway 97 (Scandia Trail), neither road is a straight line.
Highway 97 primarily runs east from Forest Lake to Minnesota State Highway 95 (St. Croix Trail), but just west of Lofton it curves northward before heading east again at Meadowbrook Avenue.
Lofton Avenue runs mostly north and south but jogs abruptly at the intersection with 97.
Add the effects of a hill, a large tree and 300 to 400 truck trips a day bringing sand and gravel from the Zavoral Mine to the Tiller Mine during haul events, and safety becomes a concern.
Even before the mine reopened, the intersection was dangerous. People heading south on Lofton who ran the stop sign could end up in the ditch on the south side of 97.
In 2008 the county installed two small yellow hazard signs to warn drivers on Lofton that the road does not continue straight south. It worked. From 2009 to 2013, only one crash was reported to the state involving a southbound vehicle failing to stop.
In 2014 Washington County plans a pavement improvement project for Lofton, from 97 north to the county line.
To address new concerns related to the increased truck traffic, the county also applied for and received MnDOT funding to add turn lanes at the intersection.
County Engineer Wayne Sandberg presented details to the Scandia Council at a work session on March 5.
Trucks cutting corners when they turn have caused ruts in the shoulder and have hit street signs, Sandberg said. Other trucks turn so wide they encroach on oncoming traffic.
Visibility is impaired by the hill and a large oak tree in the public right of way. The tree will be removed and a site distance analysis done, he said, but changing the grade of a road is very expensive.
Because it’s especially hard to see at night, he added, lights would be a safety improvement.
The current setup with a right turn lane works well only in low traffic conditions. If the bypass lane is used to go around a left turner, the next car may not have time to react. If one car is turning left and another turning right, the third car cannot continue.
The new plan is to add center left turn lanes and dedicated right turn lanes.
The turning radius will be designed to accommodate trucks.
Overhead street lighting would make drivers more apt to pay attention, Sandberg said, but the city might have to share the cost.
The county prefers minimal-maintenance solutions, he said. These might include adding a stop sign on the left side of Lofton or changing from a 3-foot to a 4-foot stop sign. Only as a last resort would a flashing stop sign be considered.
Rumble strips in the roadway are no longer used by Washington County because of noise complaints from neighbors, he said, but they could be used on the shoulder where cars approach stop signs.
Construction to improve the intersection will take about six weeks and be done by November. The intersection work will be coordinated with the paving project.
The total cost for intersection improvement is projected at $443,395, with $50,000 coming from the county and the rest from the state.
The City Council will see a preliminary design in June or July, Sandberg said.
Only the adjacent property owners will be notified, and the county plans no large-scale public engagement.
“There will be a low level of public involvement,” he concluded.