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Letter: J turn proposal not right for Heron Lake

By Pat Sontag, Heron Lake

Even though I could not be at the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s final community hearing regarding the proposed “J” turns on Minnesota 60, I want to voice my concern.

Change is, of course, inevitable, and while the proposal being reviewed at face value offers a solution, are the long-term impacts to our community being fully considered? Heron Lake is a rural community, and the very nature of rural means that our community is not bound by the highway — it extends to lands surrounding, reaching through and beyond Minnesota 60. We need a solution that is respectful of the rural dynamic, a solution that allows those who live here to efficiently and safely move through their community — no different than the communities of Windom or Worthington. Just because our stretch of highway is not lined with blocks of buildings does not mean we deserve any less respect in a solution than the surrounding towns. In fact, the lack of a strong visual cue that there is a living and breathing community here makes it even more important to consider an alternative solution that slows the traffic down.

The proposal in current form:

  • Creates an even stronger division of our community and makes it more difficult to access cemeteries, football field, berry farm, neighbors.
  • Forces traffic going east and west to cross a busy lane to get into the “turn” vs. just stopping, looking and crossing, creating a new potential for accidents.
  • P.J.’s and the Expressway would undoubtedly suffer business loss.
  • Creates confusion for those entering the community.
  • Large vehicles would find the “turn” burdensome.
  • Furthers a sense of community isolation.
  • The cost of the “turns” and additional land required for the construction would be excessive.

An alternate proposal with far less negative impacts might be to slow the highway traffic to 55 miles per hour between Duck Lake and the west side entrance to Heron Lake, and to pose stronger traffic signs for those traversing the highway. On approach to the highway could be “Warning — Dangerous Intersection” signage, along with large stop signs on all sides of the highway (approaching and crossing).

A short-term “ready to roll” patrol vehicle could be poised at the street going to the football field to tag those who do not obey the speed limit as reinforcement. The revenue generated from the fines could help offset patrol costs.

Even more important than the loss of community, land, cost and inconvenience the MnDOT proposal represents, the J turn offers a level of safety no higher than our current situation — especially if the traffic is not forced to slow down. An alternate proposal of speed reduction and improved signage would be far less costly, less disruptive to our community dynamic, more respectful of the rural environment and offer a higher level of overall safety.