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Dave Olson, Published January 27 2013

Bustling F-M intersections price of prosperity

FARGO - When Beds by Design went scouting for a new location a few years ago, the Fargo mattress maker studied traffic counts and decided the former Krispy Kreme building at the corner of 13th Avenue and 45th Street South would be a good spot.

Was it?

“We tripled our traffic,” said Eric Bjorkman, assistant manager at the store that moved just a few blocks from its former home in a shopping center.

Fargo and other growing communities in the state are finding busy intersections a natural result of population increases, but they bring challenges.

Williston and Dickinson in western North Dakota’s Oil Patch are wrestling with how to maintain safety and infrastructure while accommodating the ever-growing number of trucks servicing the booming petroleum industry.

Although there are no official statewide rankings that identify the busiest intersections in North Dakota, at least one Williston intersection sees more traffic than the busiest crossroads in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Double-edged sword

Select Financial Services located at the intersection of 13th Avenue and South University Drive in Fargo – the busiest intersection in the Fargo-Moorhead area – has learned that high traffic volume can be a double-edged sword.

Owner Steven Stremick picked the location for its high traffic flow when he set up shop in 2008. He said he likes the exposure that comes with doing business near a thoroughfare.

But the estimated 40,430 vehicles that pass through the intersection daily can pose a problem for customers trying to reach his parking lot on the north side of 13th Avenue.

Similar issues plague commercial property Stremick owns on the south side of 13th Avenue, kitty-corner from his wealth management business.

Stremick said he plans to ease the parking problem at Select Financial Services by moving access to his business a little further east on 13th Avenue, which he said should make it easier for clients to reach his parking lot when traffic backs up at the intersection.

For Beds by Design, the benefits of being near a high-traffic zone trump most issues, Bjorkman said. Drivers can’t help but notice the store’s sign while waiting for stoplights to change, he said.

“When they look over, we’re right on the corner,” Bjorkman said, referring to the store’s location on the third-busiest intersection in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Oil Patch pressure

For the city of Williston, the booming Oil Patch is putting a strain on the city’s roads and related structures, said Neil Bakken, city traffic technician.

He said the city’s busiest intersection – 26th Street and Second Avenue West – is a prime example.

For years, the intersection has been part of a bypass for traffic that didn’t need to go through town.

With the growth that has come with oil development, the intersection, which sees about 41,863 vehicles a day, became so clogged with trucks that a temporary bypass was built.

But the new bypass can add 19 miles to a trucker’s route and many drivers continue to use the old bypass, Bakken said.

He said many truck drivers also use GPS to find the shortest route to their destination, which may send them through parts of town trucks were not intended to go.

And that has taken a toll on things like street lights.

“They’re running over street lights, running over traffic signals, all kinds of different things,” Bakken said.

“I’ve worked for the city 30 years, and up until about a year and a half ago, I think I had one traffic signal actually knocked down,” he said.

“We’ve had four or five (knocked down) in the last year and a half,” he said.

Population driven

Dickinson is also experiencing growing pains, City Administrator Shawn Kessel said.

Dickinson’s population, which was about 17,800 in 2010, is now estimated at about 25,000.

With 3,000 more people expected in 2013, the city is bracing for continued traffic problems, Kessel said. Concern is focused on main thoroughfares, including Highway 22, Villard Street and State Avenue.

One trouble spot is the interstate off-ramp at I-94 and Highway 22.

“I’ve had drivers tell me that it took them 20 minutes to get onto Highway 22 from the interstate,” Kessel said.

The worry is that traffic will back up on the interstate, he said.

“I’ve not yet seen that, but it’s been awful close.”

The state Department of Transportation has been asked to come up with potential solutions to the problem.

Fast-moving picture

As for crashes, the most dangerous intersection in Dickinson may be at Highway 22 and Villard Street, Kessel said.

“Our concern there is, there are three schools located within a block and a half,” he said of the intersection that sees about 22,000 vehicles daily.

To illustrate how quickly Dickinson’s traffic picture has changed with oil development, Kessel said an intersection at Highway 22 and 12th Street showed traffic counts of about 15,500 vehicles a day in 2011.

Within a few years, Dickinson expects the intersection will serve 21,000 vehicles a day.

On the bright side, that intersection was just rebuilt using concrete, Kessel said.

“Choice of materials can have an effect on functionality because you’re not causing traffic issues by repairs and other things,” he said.

Dickinson officials hope a truck bypass the North Dakota Department of Transportation plans to build early this year will take some of the pressure off city intersections.

Minnesota counts

It doesn’t have a bustling oil industry, but west-central Minnesota does have busy intersections, including several in Moorhead.

Examples include:

By comparison, some of the busier intersections in the Twin Cities include Highway 252 and 85th Avenue, which has about 67,000 vehicles a day and Highway 65 at 109th Avenue, which handles an estimated 65,000 vehicles, a day.

Traffic volumes cited in this story were provided by the North Dakota Department of Transportation, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Council of Governments.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

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