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Erik Burgess, Published June 17 2013

Flashing yellow left-turn signal hits downtown Moorhead

MOORHEAD – Drivers in the downtown area here might notice a flashy new traffic signal.

A flashing yellow left-turn arrow has been added to a new Minnesota Department of Transportation traffic signal at Main Avenue and Sixth Street, which went into operation Monday.

It’s just the second flashing yellow signal in the region. There are none on the North Dakota side; the new flashing yellow arrow joins one in place at 12th Avenue South and 20th Street in Moorhead.

But within a blink, area streets will see a lot more of the new type of traffic light, which directs drivers to yield to oncoming traffic on a left-hand turn. Experts say the flashing yellow arrow is safer than the typical solid green light.

MnDOT district traffic engineer Tom Swenson said left-turn arrows will be on new traffic signals at the intersections of Main Avenue and Fourth, Fifth and Eighth streets this summer.

One will also go up on Center Avenue and 14th Street, Swenson said.

“It gives people an opportunity to finish that (turning) movement, actually in a safer fashion than a green ball,” he said.

The intermittent yellow left-turn arrow flashes for about 20 to 25 seconds. A solid yellow arrow means the left-turn signal is about to turn red.

The combination of the yellow color and flashing light remind a driver to yield more so than a steady green bulb, Swenson said.

There is a sign included with the new signal that helps with the learning curve and reminds drivers to yield on a flashing yellow arrow, Swenson said.

A study done by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program determined that drivers had fewer crashes with flashing yellow left-turn arrows than with standard yield-on-green signals, according to a MnDOT press release.

MnDOT has been installing the flashing yellow signals statewide since 2010. There are more than 130 in Minnesota, with many in the Twin Cities.

North Dakota is one of five states that have no such signals, but Fargo-Moorhead traffic planners are studying where a flashing yellow could benefit traffic flow – a study that should be done by September. Fargo Traffic Engineer Jeremy Gorden has said he has identified 23 intersections in Fargo where such a signal could be helpful.

The downtown Moorhead signal replacement is part of MnDOT’s $4.8 million project replacing six old signals, four of them downtown.

Pavement will be repaired on downtown Main Street after all the new signals are installed. The project is scheduled to be done by late September.

Crews will begin replacing the Main Avenue and Fifth Street signal today. Both outside lanes of Main will be closed near the intersection, and drivers will not be able to use Fifth Street to cross the railroad tracks, said project engineer Jesse Miller.

Miller said it’s taking crews two and a half to three weeks to replace each signal. A four-way stop will be in place at the intersection while the signal is down, he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518