EAGLE LAKE — State transportation officials have opted for a J-turn on Highway 14 in Eagle Lake to reduce crashes at the community’s most dangerous intersection.
The solution was one of three options presented to the Eagle Lake residents and other drivers who use the intersection of Highway 14 and Blue Earth County Road 56 on the western edge of town, probably best known as the Casey’s intersection.
Just 44% of 246 survey respondents, two-thirds of them Eagle Lake residents, liked the J-turn alternative. A J-turns, which is also called an RCUT (restricted crossing U-turn), will force drivers looking to go west on Highway 14 from County Road 56 to first head east before making a U-turn at a designated spot a few hundred feet down the highway.
Comparatively, though, only 23% liked the alternative of a right-in/right-out intersection, which would have blocked all left-turn movements at the intersection. And only slightly more — 32% — liked the option of a three-quarters access intersection.
After gathering the public input and having discussions with the Eagle Lake City Council and Blue Earth County Board, the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced Wednesday it had settled on the least unpopular solution.
“This was not a perfect answer to this intersection, but it is probably the best answer at this point in time,” said Commissioner Kip Bruender, who represents Eagle Lake on the County Board.
In 2016, MnDOT made $2.1 million in safety improvements at all three of Eagle Lake’s Highway 14 intersections, including a J-turn at Parkway Avenue and a three-quarters intersection at LeRay Avenue, restricting left turns from LeRay on to the highway. At those two intersections, crash-rates declined substantially.
At County Road 56 — where a 1,500-foot acceleration lane was added for drivers traveling from the county road to westbound Highway 14 — the high number of crashes continued, including fatal and serious injury collisions.
Most of the problem involved County Road 56 drivers attempting to turn left on Highway 14 getting into crashes with eastbound Highway 14 traffic, according to MnDOT traffic engineer Scott Thompson. The J-turn eliminates those direct left turns.
Bruender, who operates an automotive repair shop, said he took the opportunity recently to see how J-turns work for 18-wheelers. A semi driver was at his shop and agreed to give Bruender a ride through the J-turn at Parkway Avenue.
“I got to see how it worked in an actual semi with a trailer,” he said. “... He got around the RCUT without any issues at all, not even using both lanes. So I think it will be a huge safety improvement for the intersection.”
Some Eagle Lake residents wondered why MnDOT didn’t just construct a freeway-style interchange with an overpass and entrance and exit ramps, but there simply isn’t the space for a full interchange because of development and the nearby lake.
Construction of the J-turn is tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2022.