WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota Department of Transportation engineers spoke Monday evening to a stacked room of business owners and employees - most of whom operate on Oxford Street - about the street's medians.
Oxford Street will be completely redone within the next decade. The city of Worthington, Nobles County and MnDOT have together hosted over a dozen meetings and a couple of open houses to gather public input on what should be changed before the street is reconstructed.
The median issue comes down to access. Business owners have long wanted to replace medians with a center-left turn lane to provide more access for their customers, while MnDOT engineers want to keep the medians, restricting access to prevent more accidents.
Oxford Street has high access density, as many businesses have multiple driveways. The high access is one of the reasons MnDOT wants to keep the median.
Brett Paasch, MnDOT traffic engineer, said Oxford is "performing pretty well right now," considering the high access density.
Paasch said the street has had 22 crashes in the last five years. MnDOT's models predict crashes would increase sixfold with the addition of a center-left turn lane and removal of the median, meaning a crash every two and a half weeks.
Paasch cited Oxford Street from Burlington Avenue to Grand Avenue as an example, noting that it’s one of the worst blocks on the U.S. trunk highway system.
Right now, with the medians, the road has 112 total conflict points. By removing the medians and installing a center-turn lane, that would increase to at least 378 conflict points.
"As your access goes up, so does your crash rate," Paasch said.
Forrest Hasty, MnDOT District 7 project manager, provided an analysis of 41st Street in Sioux Falls, S.D., a five-lane street with a center-left turn lane often referenced as a road that has a safe, working center-left turn lane.
Hasty found the road had 1,916 crashes from 2004 to 2015, or an average of 3.78 crashes per week. He said the problem got so bad that the city plans to install medians throughout the corridor by 2021.
Hasty said MnDOT could explore some options to provide better access for customers, such as painted medians that are larger turning radiuses for trucks.
"But we can't remove the medians," he said. "We can't do that because we know more people will get hurt, and there will be more crashes.”
Oxford Street business owners and employees voiced their opinions after the presentation.
Marv Spomer, owner of Spomer Classics, said the medians had done damage to businesses on Oxford, especially Walgreens and Runnings, by restricting access. He argued that businesses should have a bigger say, as every business owner he has spoken to is against the medians.
“You've got to take into consideration who's signing your check,” Spomer said. “The businesses are paying the taxes. We can’t afford to lose any business, not one customer, in today’s market.”
Though there were many chances for public input, some business owners at the meeting wondered if their thoughts were ever going to be considered.
“If we come to a consensus on the medians … is it changeable or not changeable?” State Farm insurance agent Jessica Noble.
Hasty said public input was considered for many aspects of the street, such as lane layouts and the street’s appearance, but MnDOT was never going to agree to remove medians.
The section of Oxford to the east of Humiston Avenue is under control of MnDOT. The west side is under control of the county. County officials are not in favor of removing the median, nor is MnDOT.
The only way the east side medians could be removed is if the city took control of the road and agreed to remove the medians, which would be unprecedented for a road with such large traffic volume. For now, it seems the medians are here to stay.