New lights could have motorists seeing blue

County officials considering idea to catch drivers running red lights

local_052213_blue lightStealth blue lights embedded in some stop lights have become the extra eyes of police officers waiting down the road from a traffic signal to catch motorists running red lights before they see the officer’s squad car.

Those blue lights could come to Washington County, according to safety ideas floated Tuesday at a Board of Commissioners workshop. Commissioners listened to nearly $8 million worth of ideas proposed by traffic consultant Howard Preston of Lake Elmo to make a dent in the 72 serious and fatal crashes on county roads from 2006 to 2010.

The $8 million would not come from county coffers, but county officials could apply for the money from the state, said Joe Gustafson, Public Works Department transportation engineer.

Among the 72 crashes, the largest subgroup — 26 percent — involved drivers younger than 21. The next largest group — 22 percent — involved people not wearing seatbelts. Preston’s report, mandated and paid for by the state, was presented as “preventative” rather than after-the-crash ideas. It could assist county officials to “focus on promoting seatbelt use, or improve driver training, so drivers under 21 drive better,” said Gustafson.

Preston suggestions included:

l $982,000 for blue lights in stop lights, on four county corridors yet to be decided;
l $50,000 for crosswalk countdown timers, medians, sidewalks and other pedestrian devices on one corridor;
l $201,925 for conversions from four- to three-lane roads on five corridors;
l $5.7-plus million for rural striping and shoulder paving on 74 miles, 65 miles of rural centerline rumbles and 12-foot buffers, such as on Minnesota 5, from Lake Elmo to the high school;
l $711,965 for rural projects for 143 curves in the road;
l $266,400 for rural projects at 17 intersections.

District 3 Commissioner Gary Kriesel said Preston’s report omitted strategies to curb errant non-drivers.

“Can anyone tell me when a bicyclist or pedestrian got a ticket?” Kriesel asked
Controversial roundabouts were also discussed at the workshop. District 2 Commissioner Ted Bearth criticized roundabouts as useless compared to stop lights.
“When you make people stop, you’re not going to have an accident,” he said.
But Gustafson said after the signal went up on Minnesota 36 at Lake Elmo Avenue, vehicle accidents increased.

County Engineer Wayne Sandberg proposed borrowing $6.5 million from bond investors for a roundabout at 10th Street North and Manning Avenue in Lake Elmo, and turn lanes, pavement and trail between there and MN 5.

Sandberg  proposed a total of $29.5 million for “priorities,” to be raised in a 2015 bond offer. Proposals include $19 million to rehab the Public Works North Shop in Stillwater for transportation and parks maintenance, and the sheriff’s impound lot.
“The snowplow drivers have to wash down their trucks outside after each day or night of plowing to remove the salt build up … to reduce the potential for rusting,” said County Administrator Molly O’Rourke. “There is not enough room inside the North Shop to pull in the trucks. The outdoor washing … has to be done no matter what the temperature or the wind chill.”

But Kriesel said he was “not convinced yet” to increase county debt for the North or South shops.

“I totally understand the infrastructure (bond needs) for roads and bridges,” he said.
“My main focus is roads,” added District 4 Commissioner Autumn Lehrke,
“The North Shop facility has got to be done,” Bearth said.

District 1 Commissioner Fran Miron was favorable overall to the bond proposals.
The County Board needs to decide on a 2015 bond offer by this fall so county staff can properly plan, O’Rourke said.