Spring 2022 Highway News Roundup

The Chestnut Street Pedestrian Plaza Project to Get Underway in Stillwater

As part of the ongoing effort to revitalize its waterfront and reclaim its downtown from the traffic in the wake of the St Croix Crossing opening, Stillwater is prepared to rebuild a two-block section of Chestnut Street leading up to the lift bridge. After having been barricaded off with temporary concrete, it will be built into a more proper pedestrian space. As Chestnut Street is still technically a trunk highway, the street will be owned by MnDOT and leased to the City of Stillwater.

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The corner of Chestnut and Main (photo by author)

There are several reasons the street was not turned back to the City. MnDOT wants veto power over the design due to the need for maintenance vehicles to access the Lift Bridge and to ensure a design compatible with the historic nature of the bridge. Also, it would in theory require a statewide referendum for a constitutional amendment to turn back. The original 70 charter trunk highways can in theory only be changed by a constitutional amendment. (See A History of Minnesota Trunk Highways, the original version on Streets.mn or the revised and updated version on my blog North Star Highways).

The description of Constitutional Route 45 specifies a terminus “on the banks of the St. Croix in the city of Stillwater”. So the St. Croix Crossing in Oak Park Heights doesn’t count. For some other constitutional route turnbacks including MN 50 through Lakeville MnDOT used the loophole “you can still get from town A to town B using the trunk highway system”, but there doesn’t seem to be any getting around this one.

Chestnut Street Plaza, original design
Chestnut Street Plaza, original design (graphic by city of Stillwater)

The original design that was favored by Stillwater was something more resembling a park, but this was vetoed by MnDOT as well as the state historic preservation office. Seems something resembling a street leading up to the bridge is important for the historic integrity of the bridge. Besides not resembling a street with distinct street, curb, and sidewalk, specific objections mentioned included large canopy trees blocking the view of the bridge from downtown, and the red pavers being a color not originally present.

Here is the revised design that maintains the feel of a street. The “street” portion is slightly narrowed from 24 to 20 feet to allow wider sidewalks; the “parking” area is for bicycles and benches. The trees are to the side and will be upright, columnar trees that won’t block the view of the bridge from downtown. The clear space in the middle will also provide an ideal location for portable stages. The streetlights will be retro-styled warm white LED “acorn lights” that will soon replace all the existing lighting in downtown.

New design (graphic by City of Stillwater)

The Purple Streetlights of St. Paul

Purple Street Lights of St. Paul
Purple Streetlights of St. Paul (photo by author)

Some of the new LED streetlights in St. Paul are turning purple. It’s not a tribute to Prince or the Minnesota Vikings, but a manufacturing defect. “White” LEDs are fundamentally blue, but use phosphors to convert some of the blue light to red and yellow, and the overall result appears white to us. But due to a defective batch of LED chips, the yellow phosphors are prematurely failing, leaving the red phosphor and the original blue light, with the result being an overall blue to purple cast.

The affected models are the Autobahn ATB Micro, ATB0, and ATB2 made by American Electric. MnDOT never used these particular models on the freeways (the Autobahn ATBM model that MnDOT does use is unaffected). But St. Paul and other cities have, and there’s numerous news reports of similar failures in other cities including Eau Claire, Charlotte, and Cincinnati. These lights are covered by the manufacturer’s warranty and should be reported to the appropriate jurisdiction for replacement.

The Rural Intersection Conflict Warning System (RICWS) Program Crashes

RICWS (photo by MnDOT)

A few years ago, MnDOT began a program to try to reduce crashes at dangerous rural intersections. Via use of sensors, signs would warn motorists on the main road that there might be side traffic entering, and motorists on the side road that that there was traffic on the main road. From an initial test installation at US 52 and County State Aid Highway 9 in 2013, eventually 66 were installed in the state. It sounds like a wonderful use of technology, but then someone decided to actually do a study to see how well they worked, and found that… they don’t.

Crash data was collected before and after RICWS was installed, and found that crashes actually increased by 0.25%. Further attempts to analyze intersection characteristics found clear crash reductions only at intersections with one or more of:

  • Low traffic volume on the side street (crashes actually increased statistically after activation with high traffic volumes, over 2500 vehicles a day)
  • Commercial development on one or more quadrants
  • Straight, rather than curved approaches
  • A speed limit of 55 mph

With no overall benefit to the program, it’s likely MnDOT will put the brakes on further expansion.

Interchange Design for US 52 and I-90 Unveiled

Currently motorists heading south on the US 52 freeway south of Rochester suddenly encounter a folded diamond interchange that they need to navigate to continue on to I-90 west. This interchange dates from the time US 52 was a two-lane country road and Rochester was half its current size. The I-90 bridges are now at the end of their service life and need to be replaced.

Construction will occur in 2024-2025. Along with replacing the bridges, the new design has high speed ramps for motorists between the south and the west. Replacing the ramps for the other directions isn’t planned due to low usage, the non-freeway status of US 52 to the south, and the steep hill to the east.

US 52 and I-90 Layout
Proposed Layout Graphic by MnDOT

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.

11 thoughts on “Spring 2022 Highway News Roundup

  1. Sheldon Gitis

    I kind of like the blue night lights. They certainly make the picture look cool. Maybe the phosphor-free blue lights should be a feature rather than a defect.

    The MnDOT project at the Hwy 52-I90 interchange, on the other hand, is much less likable. As with every other MnDOT project, speed, volume, and maximizing costs are the goal, and safety and economy are ignored.

    How can anyone look at a picture like this and not either laugh at its Rube Goldberg-esque quality or ache in pain at the headache it will no doubt be for motorists navigating through the mess during and after its construction?


    Wouldn’t it be great if someone at MnDOT could design a new highway interchange that reduces volume and speed, reduces crashes, and costs half as much to build and maintain as the proposed loopty-loo madness.

    1. Trademark

      Highly disagree regarding the interchange. It handles the major movements while also not spending on unneeded movements and keeping some of them at grade. With proper signing I don’t see anyone getting confused from it.

      1. Sheldon Gitis

        Another gem from the anonymous “Trademark”. At the moment, the ridiculous design isn’t handling anything, “major movements” or otherwise. It’s just a screwball Rube Goldberg image on a MnDOT website/grant application.

        If the project continues to generate the requisite Federal, State and County funding, and eventually does get built at 2 or 3 or more times the cost of replacing the existing structure – which is already probably more expansive than needed – it will accommodate larger volumes of higher speed traffic leading to more crashes. If you think of everywhere traffic lanes converge or intersect as a crash point, which is exactly what each intersection or convergence is, from end to end of the proposed interchange, I count 9 such points where the high-speed traffic will undoubtedly collide, repeatedly. Not bad MnDOT – 9 crash points on the intersection of 2 rural highways. Pure genius.

        The project, with the added traffic lanes, including a couple gratuitous, here but not there on/off SPEED ramps, will also continue to feed an already enormous maintenance budget deficit, maintenance costs the local Minnesota rubes get stuck with while the Federal Highway money moves on to the next concrete monstrosity.

        HOOYAH! The Brainpower State.

    2. David F.

      It’s not a new interchange. The ugly parts are what is already there. When the old ramps were built in the 1960s, US-52 was a much smaller highway.

      The new flyover ramp is a huge improvement. Straightening two other ramps and removing two-way sections is also a big help.

      1. Sheldon Gitis

        Obviously, both highways are relics of a bygone era and have intersected for a very long time. The proposed new interchange design, with, if my count is correct, 9 points where traffic lanes either converge or intersect, would replace the old interchange design, with presumably fewer crash points.

        The term “flyover ramp” is amusing. I wonder how many vehicles have flown over one these ramps. It actually does happen.


        1. David F,

          The flyover ramps look a bit wild at first glance but they are a lot safer than cloverleafs which are lot safer than left-turns crossing oncoming traffic at grade level. If they were to redesign this interchange from scratch there would be more of these ramps. All the new freeways have them. It’s the best way to “take a left” from one freeway to another. The just added one at 94 & 35W in Mpls.

          The fixes to this interchange are piecemeal because most of the traffic is going from Rochester to Wisconsin (and back). There is not a lot of traffic making the other turns.

          1. Sheldon Gitis

            Care to make a wager how long it will be before the next crash in the vicinity of your wonderful “flyovers” at the 94-35W interchange? I’d be very surprised if we don’t see one or more crashes where “The (sic) just added one at 94 & 35W in Mpls.” this afternoon.

            Too bad we can’t send David F. the bill for cleaning up the mess when the crashes occur.

              1. Sheldon Gitis

                You amplify a lot more than typos with your “mobile interface”. It may shock you to learn, Rochester ain’t Rotterdam.

                Constructing one of your “preferred design” highway interchanges in the corn fields south of Rochester, and then continuing to spend some obscene amount maintaining the Rotterdam-sized mess, is a preference only a concrete project-fixed “mobile interface” user could love.

        2. Trademark

          Let’s just make freeway’s one lane where cars can share it at 55 mph. There would only be one conflict point with a head on collision.

          Conflict points matter but are just one piece of information. Conflict points with merges are safer then a 90 degree angle begging for a T-Bone crash. This is the same principle as a roundabout. There may be more conflict points but they are of reduced severity.

          1. Sheldon Gitis

            In addition to the 7 merge points, where the high-speed traffic races to jockey for lane position, it looks like the proposed design also has a couple T-bone opportunities, where the 90 mph traffic loops off reconstructed eastbound I90 ramps and comes to a stop at 52.

            Safety is the last thing the traffic engineers care about. It’s all about speed, volume, and maximizing expense. That’s it. The bigger, the more complicated, the more expensive to build and maintain, the better. And as an afterthought, if safety concerns need to be addressed, they can spend even more money on an array of looneytoon signage.

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