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Recent deaths highlight Highway 316 deficiencies

Mn/DOT studies reveal that crash data from 1999 to 2001 for three segments of Highway 316 ranked between the 63rd and 84th percentile, with 100 being the highest and most dangerous, in comparison to 2,680 similar highway segments.

Residents and business owners who live or work along Highway 316 have their own thoughts on why the highway has become so dangerous, but they all agree that Mn/DOT's proposed construction project for the highway is way overdue.

The project, scheduled to begin in April, includes resurfacing the roadway by milling the pavement and providing a bituminous overlay, as well as providing safety enhancements, such as widening the roadway shoulders, providing turn lanes and improving intersections.

Road much traveled

The roadway now known as Highway 316 was initially a township road before it was added to the state's highway system in 1959.

Highway 316 is perhaps best known as the major artery that takes drivers to the local road leading to Treasure Island Resort and Casino in Red Wing. When Treasure Island first opened in 1984 as a bingo operator, its effect on the traffic loads on Highway 316 was minimal. But when the casino tripled in size and added gaming tables and slot machines shortly after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allowed the expansion of gaming in 1988, the number of cars going to and from the casino increased significantly.

Since 1988, Treasure Island Resort and Casino has undergone at least nine different expansion projects and additions to either its gaming or hotel operations. And on Jan. 21, the casino announced another $4.8-million remodeling project that includes the creation of additional high-end suites and extended-stay rooms in its hotel.

Although "the road wasn't built to handle the loads or speeds of traffic it currently handles," said Nancy Daubenberger, area engineer -- Dakota and Scott Counties for Mn/DOT Metro District. She indicated that the casino traffic is only a portion of the traffic on Highway 316.

"In my opinion, I don't think there is any direct correlation between the routes that lead to casinos and the level of safety of those routes. I think it just happens to be that some casinos are accessed via roads that currently have some unmet needs or are in the process of having reconstruction projects programmed or developed," she said.

"The development along the road (and along the local roads) likely contributes to a bigger portion of the traffic, as well as some through traffic traveling between Red Wing and Hastings and beyond," she added.

Mn/DOT estimates that the average daily traffic on Highway 316 will increase from 11,000 to 18,000 by the year 2020; however, Daubenberger said she looked at the crash rates roughly over the last 20 years and noted that "there is actually a slight downward trend (slightly fewer crashes per number of vehicles per mile in more recent years)."

Still, that's little reassurance to 20-year-old Andy McNamara, who lives with his parents in a neighborhood within walking distance of where the two car accidents took place.

McNamara blames the unsafe nature of the roadway on the erratic speed limit, which shifts from 35 miles per hour to 55 miles per hour at a location where there are feed-in roads to the highway, where newer housing developments are being built, and where Hastings' two most recent car fatalities took place.

"I think the big thing is people see the 55 and they step on it and they increase their speed, causing some accidents out here," McNamara said. "Maybe they should just lower the speed limit to 35 for a longer stretch of the road."