Cologne business owners and residents have known for months that a major intersection redesign project was in the works for late summer or early fall this year, but scant warning of the actual starting date caused numerous individuals to voice frustration with the Minnesota Department of Transportation during a business meeting on Monday, Aug. 13.
Beginning on Monday, north and southbound traffic on Highway 284 and County Road 53 was blocked by concrete barriers at Highway 212, which was reduced to one lane in both directions through Cologne while the intersection redesign began.
When business owners met with MnDOT later that afternoon, several were incredulous that the information meeting was taking place after work had already begun rather than weeks ahead of time so they would have time to inform their customers and make sure proper signage was in place.
Bill Reimers of Mid-County Coop said the meeting should have been held weeks ago, noting that businesses are usually notified well in advance when major roadwork that could affect traffic flow is planned.
“We’re not only losing business, we’re paying to lose business,” he said, noting that he expected to lose tens of thousands of dollars while access to the downtown
businesses is reduced over the next months. Reimers spoke calmly, but said he was furious that the meeting was being held the same day construction began.
“This is awful. This is awful what you’re doing to this community,” he said.
Other business people in attendance said they were upset that MnDOT had not sent out proper notification of the start date. Most said they learned of the starting date through an email from the city at the start of the month.
Additional frustrations were that the detour signage was inadequate, and that there was no signage directing drivers to downtown businesses.
John Hendel of the Cologne Fire Department asked whether the department had been notified prior to Monday that the intersection would be closed. Diane Langenbach of MnDOT said she was not sure whether the fire chief had been notified, but offered to attend a fire department meeting later in the evening to help explain the project.
Langenbach added that the starting date was advanced because the Highway 5 work is ahead of schedule. She said she was also somewhat surprised by the earlier start date of the project, and offered to help add additional signage for businesses as quickly as possible — possibly within days if the proper information could be gathered.
She reiterated that the project has been undertaken because the intersection has been the site of six fatal accidents since 2001, including two fatal crashes last year. If the intersection was not redesigned, she said, the intersection could have been permanently closed to north/south traffic.
“If you think about the safety involved, I hope everyone feels this will be worth it,” she said.
Timeline and traffic impact
The project began on Aug. 13, and the scheduled completion date, which is subject to change, is Oct. 26.
There are three stages to the project. In the first stage, which is now underway and should last until Aug. 26, crews will be installing the center median concrete and making ramp improvements to westbound Highway 212. Motorists will not be able to make left turns off of or onto Highway 212 during this period, though drivers can approach Highway 212 directly to make right turns from Highway 284 and County Road 53.
During the second stage, the RCUT intersection, now called a “Reduced Conflict Intersection” (RCI), will take on its final configuration. The design eliminates cross traffic, but all traffic on Highway 212 will have full right and left turn access into Cologne after this stage is completed around Sept. 21. North and southbound drivers will need to take a short detour down Highway 212 before making a U-turn and proceeding on their way.
MnDOT officials say most accidents on four-lane divided highways come after drivers have safely crossed the first two lanes and are entering the second two lanes of cross traffic. Breaking the crossing up into two separate actions allows drivers to look for gaps in just one direction before crossing.
During the first two stages, north/south traffic will be redirected along County Road 36, Highway 41 and Village Parkway.
During the third stage, the western intersection of County Road 36 and Highway 212 will be reconfigured so that drivers cannot make a left turn onto Highway 212 from County Road 36. Instead, they will use the entrance ramp just west of the overpass to enter Highway 212.