Roadguy had never traveled on any of the western portions of Hwy. 55 — and by “western portions,” he means anything beyond the Lowe’s in Plymouth. The reason: He’d never been invited. Fortunately, on Tuesday evening, a few layers of government got together and threw an open house featuring some plans for the highway. The entire public was invited, so Roadguy seized the opportunity.
But first, as long as I was out that direction, I figured I might as well check out an on-the-road attraction that I’d heard so much about: the dots. As you may recall from last summer, MnDOT painted large dots on the pavement west of Rockford and erected signs that instructed motorists to pace themselves so there would be at least two dots between any two vehicles. The idea is that longer following distances would reduce crashes.
(You may also recall that the dots inspired someone to paint a large Pac-Man on the road. It’s still there, though winter has taken a toll.)
Anyway, during the evening rush hour, I gave the dots a try. They’re 225 feet apart, which, I quickly learned, is quite a bit farther than my usual following distance. Fortunately, the truck behind me was also playing along, so I didn’t have anyone breathing down my bumper.
Like many traffic rules, this one was selectively adhered to — many of the cars I saw were bunched up as they zoomed through the rolling hills. But a MnDOT report (available at the tailgating safety project page) found that the average distance between vehicles increased by about 18 feet during the study period, so perhaps more dots are in Minnesota’s future.
Safety is one of the big reasons that officials are looking to redo much of Hwy. 55, as I learned after I arrived for the open house, which was held at the …
… a mammoth structure that takes up much of Medina. It was cold outside, but inside, things looked like an opening night at an art gallery:
Ever civic-minded, Minnesotans were not thwarted by near-zero temperatures — they wanted to learn about a project that could affect significant numbers of people.
The big maps hanging on the wall were actually aerial photos with various revamped roadways superimposed. There were two proposals for the Plymouth part of the project: one would turn Hwy. 55 into a four-lane almost-freeway, with overpasses and no stoplights. The other would convert it to a six-lane road and keep the stoplights. The engineers said that the four-lane version would actually have a greater capacity because a stoplight-free road can handle more cars. West of Plymouth, 55 would be four lanes (instead of the current two) all the way to the county line at Rockford.
There were lots of details on how the new road might be configured, but some key elements had yet to be determined, such as …
Indeed — not much room for loop ramps. Plus, there was the whole matter of money. The entire Hwy. 55 project is, as they say, unfunded, so its schedule sort of trails off:
Still, officials want to move ahead with preserving the right of way now, while it’s cheaper and less disruptive to do so.
This means that people in the project’s path have at least a little time to consider their options. One guy, the owner of an independent gas station, told me he’s been worried that upgrades to Hwy. 55 will permanently cut off one of his station’s three entrances. (He was interesting to chat with — topics included his recent viewing of “An Inconvenient Truth,” the global-warming movie. Maybe it’s secretly popular among gasoline vendors?) Another guy, a homeowner, held up his cell phone to take a picture of a map that included a “potential access connection” — a possible new road, shown in purple below — running through his rural neighborhood and very close to his house:
Of course, it works both ways — lots of people would be affected if the highway isn’t expanded. Not only would the safety concerns remain, but the number of vehicles using the corridor will keep increasing no matter what, said Jim Grube, a Hennepin County engineer who’s the project’s manager. On display at the open house was a chart showing how traffic delays would rise if nothing is done. (You can click on the thumbnail at right to learn which intersections would receive an “F” in 2030 for having delays in excess of “180 seconds.”) As far as I could tell, the overall plans contain no transit-specific elements, although Grube noted that improved speeds on Hwy. 55 would benefit bus traffic.
By the time the open house was over, an estimated 75 people had stopped by to learn about the project, offer their comments, and grab a free cookie. You can see some of the same things via the project’s home page — though you’ll have to bring your own refreshments.
Comments, as always, are welcomed below.