It was a full house at Le Sueur City Hall Monday night. Residents on Coventry Road came out in droves to a public hearing Oct. 14 to put a stop to a city proposal to open the Coventry intersection on Elmwood Avenue/Hwy. 112.
The controversial proposal is included in the 112 turnback project, a joint effort between the state of Minnesota, Le Sueur County and the city of Le Sueur to reconstruct and transfer ownership of the highway from the state to the county. The project deal would also include the reconstruction of several roads in Le Sueur adjacent to 112.
The plan to open Coventry has been supported by city staff as well as the city police and fire departments, who argue that opening the road would decrease emergency response times to the area. However, many residents in the neighborhood oppose the plan. Residents came out to a public hearing in July with concerns that the speeding northbound vehicles on Elmwood would make the proposed intersection dangerous.
City responds to complaints
To address these concerns, Le Sueur County commissioned a speed study of Hwy. 112. The county placed three sets of vehicle detector tubes to measure speeds on different parts of the road between Sept. 12 and Sept. 15. However, the study ran into complications when tubes in two of the locations disconnected from the collection equipment.
The remaining set, measuring speeds between Kaukis Drive and Turrill Street found confirmed resident observations of frequent speeding. About 85% of northbound drivers on the 30 mph section of 112 were driving at or below 40 mph with about 63% driving between 30-39 mph.
Though the speed study ran into complications, City Engineer Cory Bienfang said that the city is more concerned with collecting complete data after the 112 project is complete.
“What we’re going to be most concerned about is the speed travels after their improvement. We talked about the process. We’ll replicate the speed study, certainly with a lot more care, or we would repeat if there were issues with the data set … For the existing, I felt it was powerful to validate some of the assumptions we made with this analysis, most notably Coventry.“
To lower speeds, the city of Le Sueur is recommending that the county move the 30 mph ahead warning sign closer to where the speed limit changes, install a radar sign to show drivers the speed they’re traveling at and petition the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to lower the 50 mph section of road to 45 mph.
The city also looked into alternative options to opening an intersection on Coventry, including a right-in, right-out and four different types of gates. City Administrator Jasper Kruggel reported that the intersection would be a difficult place for a right-in, right-out and the county did not approve of these options.
Bienfang also pointed out that the sight and stopping distances of the proposed intersection exceed the requirements from MnDOT and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Those requirements have been met whether vehicles are traveling at 30 mph or 40 mph.
Coventry Neighborhood Response
Many of the residents in the Coventry Road neighborhood remained worried that the intersection would be unsafe. Safety was especially pressing to Joanne Smith, whose house is located at the very end of Coventry.
“I have a lot of concerns about safety because it’s about 30 feet from my end of the driveway to where the new part of the road is going to be,” said Smith. “I realize that it’s allowable to do that. Just because it can be done, should it be done? If I back out of my driveway, there’s no way if someone is coming down at 40 mph and is going to turn into Coventry that I would ever see that person ... So that is my biggest concern. I have young children that I watch frequently. I have them in the car frequently, so it’s not just my safety, but my grandchildren also.”
She continued, “I understand that emergency vehicles would like to get through that way. I’ve lived there for a very long time, almost 30 years, people get to me when I need them. I’ve never had that issue … For me, it’s more important that I’m safe every single day as I’m driving the car or my grandchildren are playing in my driveway.”
Kenna Sheets, a Coventry resident who organized petitions against the intersection, told the city that lowering speed limits on the road from 50 to 45 was not a viable solution.
“I called MnDOT. They looked at the same information. There’s no way MnDOT would ever sign off on a 45 mph zone. They already said no. They said they would never suggest something like that. Where it’s 30 mph they would actually go up to 40 or 45 until you get down to the bottom at Elmwood Circle is when they would drop it to 30.”
In a separate interview, MnDOT District 7 Engineer Scott Thompson confirmed that based on the information he was given by Sheets, it was unlikely that the state would choose to lower the speed limit in the 50 mph zone.
Coventry resident Sheets also expressed frustration with the city about their handling of the project.
“I don’t think that we’ve gotten any straight answers from anybody regarding this project. It was emergency personnel first, and then we came up with insurance reasons now and then it was we were in violation of state fire marshal code. We’ve proved it all wrong. Whether it was the process or the way it came out, we felt lied to and (deceived) for the reasons and the driving of the opening of Coventry Road.”
She continued, “I would like to propose that Coventry Road remain closed until Coventry Road is resurfaced and then let’s talk about it. It’s not going to cost you any more. It’s not going to cost you any less ... And I am asking it remain closed until the completion of the project. You can do an ample speed study through MnDOT and get their suggestion on if it is a safe intersection, what the speed limits are going to be, before you make your final decision.”
Lyle Olson, a Coventry resident and retired engineer, argued that the city needed a professional speed study done before making decisions.
“The day for most people starts at midnight. The day of the study, the time didn’t start until 6 o’clock in the morning. The speed study ended at 10 o’clock at night. Is the information that the city got to use to make a valid judgement in this project based only on the 75% of the time people use this road? ... Where is the concern? Good lord, people are speeding and that’s a potential injury. That’s a potential death. That’s a potential accident. No, what we heard was ‘oh by some authority, this is what you can do.’ … Do you only care about a statistical approach based data that’s in clear, good, dry, daytime excellent driving conditions? Don’t we have to think about when it’s nighttime, rainy, snowy, foggy or slippery?”
Darrell Kolden also felt that the city wasn’t taking into account what the interesection would be like during the winter.
“I don’t know where you get that 318 ft. is a safe distance to see the highway. At 325 ft. sitting in your car, you cannot see the road. I just think when you’re looking at the road in the middle of the winter, you’ll have serious problems there. … On a given winter day, when its the right conditions, its slippery. There isn’t a fire truck or an ambulance that’s going to make it up that hill. They can’t get up there ... I’ve seen it happen with the garbage trucks. I’m just afraid they’re going to slide into that road … When there’s an accident on that road with a fire truck or an ambulance, you’re going to have bigger problems than you ever had before.”
Not everyone was opposed to the intersection though. Peter Favolise said that it was important for city council to hear from the rest of the town.
“The biggest thing that I have is that there was a petition going around with 60, 80 100 or whatever signatures on it, but what does the rest of the town, the other 99% plus residents of Le Sueur think about part of their taxes going to making this a special road, a gated community for example?” Favolise asked. “[What do they think] of supporting that part of the road that they can’t use? One possibility that I came up with is have those residents start a neighborhood association. Partition the town to leave that as a dead end road and at that point they take the responsibility of snow removal, maintenance on the street, that the rest of us are paying for. We have heard from the people that are living there, but not from the other members of the community that are essentially supporting to maintain that road so that it can benefit six houses, maybe seven houses, on that block.”
Favolise also pointed out that people in the town would not have to use the new intersection if they don’t want to.
Following the hearing, Mayor Greg Hagg recommended that City Council send all their questions and comments inspired by this latest hearing to Coventry in an email to City Administrator Kruggel by the end of the week. No motions on Coventry or the 112 project were scheduled for the night.