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Injury crash puts spotlight on bad intersection

Two people were taken to the Park Rapids hospital Friday after this crash. Local residents are pushing for a stoplight at the 71/15 intersection. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

A Friday morning accident that sent two people to the Park Rapids hospital illustrates Dick Kimball's point: the intersection is dangerous and should have been corrected during a recent highway makeover.

The two were taken by ambulance to St. Joseph's Area Health Services following the collision at the intersection of U.S. Highway 71 and County Road 15 at the southernmost tip of the city.

"It irritates me," Kimball said. The Park Rapids resident complained to the Department of Transportation long before the accident.

"DOT had a great opportunity to make improvements to that intersection," he said. "They should have put in a turn lane."

DOT officials in Bemidji said traffic counts are being conducted and it will determine whether the intersection warrants a traffic signal. A traffic engineer overseeing the study did not respond to a query about the status of the issue by press time.

Many factors besides traffic volume are considered, including accident rates, DOT project supervisor Larry Randall said earlier this summer.

"Traffic standards be damned," Kimball said, "You have people passing on the right" around vehicles making left turns. "That's illegal. It's a fatal accident waiting to happen."

The Highway 71 corridor to Menahga just underwent a $7 million renovation, including the insertion of turn lanes at several intersections. But Kimball said without a left turn lane at that heavily-used corner, drivers in a hurry will always pose a threat to other motorists.

And, because the area is industrial, heavy trucks are on the roadway.

"A mini-van turning there wouldn't stand a chance" if a heavier truck decided to illegally pass. Visibility is blocked for oncoming vehicles.

"What's it take for these engineers to use some common sense?" he asked.

In Hubbard County, 14 rural intersections will get lighting to make them safer, thanks to a grant program that will pay the $121,000 cost.

County Engineer Dave Olsonawski said the lighting will go "at intersections we feel are appropriate at this time."

The lights were determined necessary based on safety audits, traffic counts, visibility and accident rates," he told the Hubbard County board last week.

Kimball said he will meanwhile continue his campaign to make Park Rapids' streets safer. He and his wife walk their dogs daily through town.