Minnesota’s 10 Busiest Intersections

Recently a comment posted a link that claimed “Snelling and University is the busiest intersection in the state”. To several writers, this didn’t pass the smell test. intersection 1

The source from Google comes from Wikipedia, which in turn comes from a book by Larry Millett, where he uses the phrase “This is believed to be the busiest intersection” with no indication of the ultimate source. Although it’s possible he’s trying to count pedestrians or light rail traffic in the totals, there’s no indication of such. Another writer emailed Mn/DOT asking if they knew, and the reply was they don’t officially know.

There are other factors besides overall volume, both political and engineering related, driving the location of potential projects, so keeping such trivia apparently isn’t a priority. They explained that when they do, their methology is to add up all the legs of an approach and divide by two while cautioning that some data, especially for minor side streets, might be way off due to extrapolation from years ago rather than fresh actual data. But since it’s the best we have I thought I’d see what the busiest intersections are using it.

As it turns out, Snelling and University, at traffic volume 48,550, isn’t currently even in the top 25. Another writer suggested I could present it as a story, so here is the top 10. (This list specifically excludes any that might involve freeway ramps).

#1 is MN 252, at 66th Ave N, Brooklyn Center (Traffic Volume = 68,850). This is also in the top 10 most dangerous as far as crash statistics. Just down the road, #2 is MN 252 at 85th Ave N (66,950); #6 is MN 252 at Brookdale Dr.  (61,975); #9 is MN 252 at 73rd Ave N (61,515). Also of note, MN 252 at 70th is in the top 25. The original 1970s era plan was to build MN 252 as a freeway, but there was local opposition from the city, that wanted opportunity for economic development. So it was built as a wide suburban style road in the 1980s, and things have gone downhill rapidly from there. Studies have shown that with 2035 traffic a freeway facility is necessary, but unfortunately the corridor was removed from the long range freeway plans due to lack of funding. Brooklyn Center is pursuing a single interchange at 66th in the interim, while not letting go of the long term goal of a freeway facility. A pedestrian fatality prompted building a pedestrian overpass at 85th, but not much else has been done.

Minnesota's busiest intersection- MN 252 at 66th Ave N

Minnesota’s busiest intersection- MN 252 at 66th Ave N

MN 252 at 85th Ave N.

MN 252 at 85th Ave N.

#3 is MN 65 at 109th Ave NE, Blaine (64,650) and #4 is MN 65 at 92rd Lane NE (62,500). The intersection on MN 65 at County 14 (55,550), was replaced with an interchange, but momentum and funding has stalled after that. The long term goal is still a freeway northwards of US 10, but as of now unless the local agencies get some special funding nothing further seems likely.

#5 is US 10 at Fair Oak Ave, Anoka (62,325). Just down the road US 10 at Thurston is also in the top 25. US 10 was the subject of a very grandiose $300 million  plan to relocate the mainline next to the very heavily used railroad tracks, and bridge the cross streets over both. Significant right-of-way has been acquired, but like MN 252 this got yanked from the long term plans, but replaced by more modest spot improvements at the traffic signals, either with full interchanges or removing some movements. I don’t know if the relocation plan is officially dead, or in deep, deep ice. There’s an intersection being built and Armstrong, and Elk River wants one built at Twin Lakes Road, but afterwords focus may shift to more modest improvements at Fair Oak and/or Thurston. There is a jaywalking problem between Thurston and Fair Oak which included a pedestrian fatality, so discussions are underway about building a fence. Building a third lane while keeping the traffic signals for the time being has also been discussed.

US 10 at Fair Oak Ave.

US 10 at Fair Oak Ave.

#7 is MN 15 at W Division St, St Cloud (61,750). MN 15 was planned, and ROW acquired for a freeway facility, but was built as a wide suburban style road instead. Exactly why is unclear, a Mn/DOT employee claimed that St Cloud fought them tooth and nail against a freeway so they could sell the excess land for commercial development; others have said that with the project languishing for decades because of funding the point was to sell the land to pay for building something as opposed to having nothing. At any rate, all parties now want a freeway, and it will be substantially more expensive due to extensive retaining walls now needed, but as usual there’s no money to pay for it. As a popup project one of the other intersections was replaced with Minnesota’s first diverging diamond, and the city avoided compounding the problem by building another interchange south of town, rather than adding yet another signal.

#8 is Cedar Ave S at 140th St W, Apple Valley (Traffic Volume = 61,700). Nearby, Cedar at County 42 is in the top 25.  There were various plans, including depressing the through lanes through Apple Valley (which the city took a dim view due to lack of access and how congested the frontage roads would be, essentially favoring the people bypassing Apple Valley), or just building interchanges at some of the higher volume intersections. One innovative proposal was to bridge the northbound and westbound lanes over the southbound and eastbound lanes, thus removing the left turn phases from the signals. Although a 2009 Dakota county study suggested an interchange at 42, unfortunately with the more modest improvements for the Red Line I doubt any further improvements will be done anytime soon.

Cedar Ave and 140th St, Apple Valley

Cedar Ave and 140th St, Apple Valley

Rounding out the list at #10 is County 42 and Nicollet Ave S, Burnsville (61,350). This one seems unlikely to ever be fixed. A plan to build a loop from southbound I-35E to northbound I-35W in order to eliminate the signal at the ramp to north I-35W was dropped when it was revealed it would make traffic worse due to more traffic being sent through the Nicollet intersection. Although I’ve seen the suggestion of a single point interchange at I-35E, studies seem to suggest giving up on moving traffic effectively through this stretch, instead compensating by moving traffic faster east and west of here. Ultimately I think the answer here is to build ramps of County 38 to provide an alternate route to get to I-35W.

Nicollet Ave and County 42

Nicollet Ave and County 42, Burnsville

So if University isn’t even close now, was it once? The book and Wikipedia state “around 64,000”. Going back 10 years I find 61200. But even using the more generous figure, even without looking much there were several high volume suburban intersections at the time, for example US 169 at County 81 = 79400, and US 169 and Anderson Lakes Parkway, 67550. Also interesting, is traffic volumes on the intersections that have been replaced by interchanges in recent years, some of these are local “popup” projects and some were driven by Mn/DOT.

US 10 / Armstrong Blvd = 39,680

MN 7 / Woodale Ave = 42,600

MN 7 / Louisiana Ave = 49,300

US 10 / County 96 = 59,100

MN 13 / County 5 = 66,000

MN 13 / County 101 = 60,100

County 42 / County 17 = 11,450

US 169 / County 69 = 36,430

MN 36 / English St = 76,400

MN 101 / 141st Ave = 53,700

MN 36 / Hilton Tr = 45,700

Diverging Diamond

Sparkling new Diverging Diamond, MN 101 at 141st Ave, Rogers

So what factors do go into building interchanges? First is benefit/cost analysis. Basically you add up all the benefits and divide by costs. Not just physical construction costs, but future maintenance, drivers time ($16.00 per person-hour), costs of crashes (your life is worth $10,300,000, so you can see why only one of two fatalities can easily justify substantial improvements. This can throw things so out of whack the instructions are to make absolutely sure it’s correctable by proposed improvements, not say a random drunk driving into a tree), etc. And obviously the heaviest used intersections may not be the most congested, there’s other a lot of other factors.

Second, sometimes there’s a desire for continuity. We’ve decided we don’t want traffic signals on rural expressways, at least the more heavily traveled ones, so at only 21,850 for the higher one, the signals on US 52 at Cannon Falls are gone (although these are quite often also serious safety issues).

Third, sometimes local desires can short-circuit the overall planning process and get things bumped up, my own phrase is pop up projects because they sometimes pop up out of nowhere. Mn/DOT will usually humor these, provided someone else pays for a lot or most of them.

My own feeling is somewhat ambivalent. I never object to spending money expanding highways, and if Ramsey wants to play “Sim City” and get funding for an interchange at Armstrong ahead of the much busier ones on the corridor, so be it; a lot of times it’s this project or nothing. There’s no one championing and finding funding for a pop up project at Fair Oak at the moment, even if the Armstrong project didn’t happen. However this can sometimes lead to sub-par results, that we’re then stuck with for a long time. For example a single lane flyover was built from I-94 for northbound MN 101, rather than waiting for a much more comprehensive system interchange, and the new “interchange” at US 52 and Goodhue County 9 even had to have substandard ramps in order to qualify for funding!

(And although I’m no longer really active on Wikipedia, I did go in to correct it.)

About Monte Castleman

Monte is a long time "roadgeek" who lives in Bloomington. He's interested in all aspects of roads and design, but particularly traffic signals, major bridges, and lighting. He works as an insurance adjuster, and likes to collect maps and traffic signals, travel, recreational bicycling, and visiting amusement parks.

24 thoughts on “Minnesota’s 10 Busiest Intersections

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Good article. Though I have to point out the comment at the end about Ramsey playing Sim City… that would be fine if it was their own money. Or even highway dollars. But they are getting over $10 million for that interchange from CTIB (transit dollars). For an interchange that has literally nothing to do with transit.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      What’s the purported justification for using transit dollars? Removing an at grade crossing from NorthStar? Reducing congestion for buses? Making it easier to get to Ramsey station?

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        Here’s the (newest version I’ve seen) formal request from Anoka County to CTIB. http://www.mnrides.org/sites/default/files/downloads/updated_2015_ctib_transitway_capital_grant_final.pdf
        Lots of Northstar this and Economic Development that. But literally nothing, even a sentence in the two page document, that alludes to this project helping transit/Northstar in any actual way. CTIB should be ASHAMED for allowing this. Same goes for the Feds handing out a ten figure TIGER grant to help with the $50 million road capacity project.

  2. Janne

    “There is a jaywalking problem between Thurston and Fair Oak which included a pedestrian fatality, so discussions are underway about building a fence.”

    As a person who is perceived by many people who design roads as “a jaywalking problem,” I’m feeling like my transportation needs and experiences are thoroughly dismissed. A fence just might mean I can’t get to my bus stop, my job (and therefore lose it), or wherever it is I need to go. Because there’s no way I’m walking here if I have any other options.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Yep. Here’s the “jaywalk problem” — a young woman was struck and killed as she crossed the highway to get from the housing on one side of the road to her McDonald’s job on the other. http://www.kare11.com/story/news/local/2013/12/02/3808519/ It seems rather sad that we build multifamily housing and low wage jobs (probably because they are among the lowest value land uses adjacent to a highway) and then wonder why bad things happen. A 16 year old girl, working for probably minimum wage, living in a low income area – yet the land use says she should have been in a car if she wanted to easily navigate between the two sides of a moat that only has legal-yet-still-dangerous crossings more than a half mile apart at this location. Honestly, the best thing in the short term may indeed be a median fence at this location. But that doesn’t excuse a real solution to connect these two areas for people not in cars.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        It also reminds me of another pedestrian death at another intersection brought up here… the location of the two former stoplights on US 52 in Cannon Falls. A man was hit there earlier this year trying to cross the highway. http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2015/02/08/state-patrol-investigating-fatal-crash-near-cannon-falls/
        Heartless Kit says in the comments, “I can’t feel bad for him, he tried to cross highway 52 on foot….. why would you do that?????”

        Here’s why. There are plenty of land uses on the west side of the highway, across from the actual city of Cannon Falls, which are now separated by a freeway moat. Granted, these were auto-oriented land uses and probably a mistake to be there in the first place. But they’re there. Two hotels. A Dairy Queen. A sort-of-grocer (Ferndale). A church. A few stores. Now they are separated from the City of Cannon Falls by a freeway, now that the two stoplights were removed.

        This was built by MnDOT and approved by the City of Cannon Falls without ANY regard for how humans not in cars can cross this moat. The new interchange/bridge is over a half mile south. Let’s imagine that this guy was staying at the Best Western Saratoga Inn and wanted a late night meal at the McDonalds… literally 150 feet and directly across the highway (at the point of the former stoplight). Due to the new interchange further south and the new frontage road network that was built, it would literally be over a two mile walk — largely without sidewalks — if this man wanted to legally walk to get dinner.

        This is broken. People are dying. And few people actually seem to care. I know most people won’t agree with me, but this is why I’m fine to see a transportation bill go down in flames in the legislature. We don’t need more money to build “solutions” that ignore people who aren’t in cars. Many may not agree with that take, but I bet most of us agree that the status quo isn’t really working too well.

        1. Monte Castleman Post author

          What about if the new transportation bill included money to build the second Canon Falls overpass, which would be next to the Saratoga Inn and McDonalds. The local agencies are trying to get this done. Mn/DOT is yawing because the direct problems on US 52 have been fixed so they now see it as a local, not a statewide issue. At some point doing projects half-baked is worse than not doing them at all, because it leads to sub-optimal results while killing momentum for the ultimate fix.

          1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

            That’s exactly why the current process is fatally flawed, I’ll agree with you there. A half-baked project is sometimes worse indeed, even though I’m guessing you and I would have different ideas about what the “ultimate fix” should be. This should have included a grade separated crossing in this area, whether for vehicles and non-vehicular users or just even a non-vehicular bridge. The fact that we were able to “value engineer” that non-motor-vehicle connectivity out of the plan that got built shows who is a priority and who is not.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      I didn’t state the obvious, but yes, none of these are exactly pleasant places to be, whether car or on foot. They’re all suburban intersections on heavily traveled roads where no freeway alternate is available.

  3. David LevinsonDavid Levinson

    Interesting. A reason that Snelling and University might have been considered busiest is due to the amount of traffic PER lane. I don’t know the number of lanes at all the intersections you cite, but at least some of them have more or through lanes that University and Snelling.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Speaking of, anyone know how to find full intersection movement counts for Ramsey County / St. Paul? There was talk on UrbanMSP about an idea to push Snelling below grade under University and the Green Line at some point in the future. But of course the current ROW, lined with businesses on 3 corners, is too narrow for ramps. And even if there were ramps, it would still create the same number of phases as today for LRT conflicts.

      A DC-style tunnel for Snelling would allow significant pedestrian plaza area in the current intersection area. It would necessitate movements between University and Snelling take the local street grid such as Spruce Tree Place (though this works fairly well at Pierce Butler). And we have options further east for the high-trip-generation big box area, such as Pascal and Hamline to the 94 frontage roads. I think it would do just fine.

    2. Monte Castleman Post author

      It could be, I didn’t go far that direction because data is more spotty back when the claim was made, but for example it looks like University and Snelling appears to have been 13 lanes back in 2000, with a volume of 62,000 = 4770, US 169 at County 18 appears to have been 77250 with 16 lanes = 4820. With the trend upwards on US 169 and downwards on University, it likely would have been true in the 1990s, (Online traffic count maps only go back to 2000)

      I guess the bottom line is the claim certainly is not true now, if it was at one time Millett’s book was published in 2007, well after when it was is clear it wasn’t true either on an absolute or per-lane basis.

  4. Wayne

    Absolutely none of those pictures look like they were designed with human beings in mind. Those are the most uninviting kinds of places I can imagine.

  5. Julie Kosbab

    They talk about an overpass for MN65 + 109th all the time, but getting the one at CSAH 14 was a mess, and 109th is far more densely developed than 14 was.

    The series of exchanges from US10 north to CSAH 14 is especially challenging during summer soccer tournament season, which features people from Elsewhere doing some pretty magically delicious turns, including right and left turns from straight-only lanes. It’s terrifying by all modes of transportation.

  6. sheldon mains

    Any of these improvements for cars should be 100% paid for by user fees– gas taxes and license fees. I’m tired of subsidizing suburban sprawl development designed around everyone having to drive.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      What was suggested in Mn/DOT’s email to you: Add up total volume on all approaches, and divide by two. I used the latest actual data from the online traffic mapping application for current, The 2000 and 2003 paper maps I have for historical data.

      I made a list of the “top 25”, I didn’t present it because I might have missed some and kind of stopped once I got to 25 that were more thant Snelling and University, but am pretty sure of the top 10 based on what data is available.

  7. simeon

    I wonder what the results would be if pedestrians and transit users were including as “busy-ness”

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