An article in the June 2019 city of Ham Lake’s “The Ham Laker” newsletter raised concerns about the new Reduced Conflict Intersection (RCI) under construction at 153rd Avenue and Highway 65 in Ham Lake. The article claims that the new intersection will increase response time for first responders traveling to the Ham Lake Fire Station from their homes and while responding from the fire station to an incident. The fact is, the new intersection will increase safety for motorists and serve emergency responders needs.
RCIs are a newer intersection design used on high-speed divided highways in the United States. Motorists approaching these intersections from a side street are not allowed to make left turns or cross traffic; instead, they are required to turn right onto the highway and then make a U-turn at a designated median opening to eliminate high severity right angle (broadside or T-bone) crashes (For details, see tinyurl.com/mndot-rci.)
A MnDOT study completed in 2017 found there has not been a single fatal or serious-injury crash at any of the 24 RCIs built in Minnesota. No other safety improvement we implement is this effective.
In our early discussions, city staff raised concerns about the proposed reduced-conflict intersections potentially increasing emergency response times. In response to these concerns, MnDOT created a design that will allow emergency response vehicles – fire trucks, ambulances and police squads – to drive over sloped curbs and through the median. Emergency personnel responding in their personal vehicles cannot legally cross the median because they are not “authorized emergency response vehicles” according to MN state statutes. Constructing “emergency responder only” openings in the median as the writer suggested, is not advisable because state law requires first responders to follow all traffic laws and regulations while responding to emergencies in their personal vehicles. Additionally, allowing emergency responders to drive illegally through the median would likely confuse other motorists and possibly increase crashes rather than reduce them.
Traveling an additional 1,400 feet to cross Highway 65 may slightly increase the time for emergency responders to safely cross Highway 65. However, by reducing the number of vehicles responders need to watch out for, the RCI will likely improve response times in heavy traffic conditions and will help ensure responders reach their destination safely.
MnDOT staff has shared design decisions and reasoning with city and county staff, elected officials, business owners and the public through the several years of project development.
MnDOT is committed to providing safe roads in the most cost-effective manner possible for all Minnesotans while accommodating the needs of a vast and diverse group of citizens. These reduced conflict intersections will enhance the safety of the citizens of Ham Lake and all travelers on Highway 65.