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Plans approved to address problem intersection

Duluth may boast a group of highway intersections known as the "can of worms," but Cloquet has its own "hornets' nest." That's what Cloquet City Engineer Jim Prusak called the intersection of Highway 33, Doddridge Avenue and Big Lake Road in a pr...

Overview of intersection plans
This Minnesota Department of Transportation drawing shows plans for improving traffic flow on Highway 33, particularly in the area surrounding the Big Lake Road and Doddridge Avenue intersection. Image provided by MnDOT

Duluth may boast a group of highway intersections known as the "can of worms," but Cloquet has its own "hornets' nest."

That's what Cloquet City Engineer Jim Prusak called the intersection of Highway 33, Doddridge Avenue and Big Lake Road in a presentation to the Cloquet City Council Tuesday night. Councilors and Mayor Bruce Ahlgren unanimously approved preliminary plans to improve the roadway and traffic flow at that intersection and on Highway 33 as far as Interstate 35.

Although construction is not set to start until the spring of 2014, the three governmental agencies - the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Carlton County and the city of Cloquet - working together on the project needed council approval to proceed with final designs.

Not surprisingly, the two intersections with the most reported accidents on that stretch of roadway are the Brenny-Dahl-L&M intersection (with 20 reported accidents from 2007 through 2011) and the hornet's nest itself, with 16 accidents over that five-year period.

Here's how the project proposes dealing with those problem areas:

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  • The Hornets' Nest - Big Lake Road and Doddridge Avenue will each have a through-lane, plus new right- and left-turn lanes for eastbound and westbound traffic as well as pedestrian signals. These improvements will improve traffic flow through the intersection by allowing traffic from both sides to pass through the intersection at the same time just like the north- and south-bound traffic does on Highway 33 currently.

As well, there will be crosswalks and pedestrian signals at all four corners with an island in the middle of Highway 33 where pedestrians can rest if they can't make the entire crossing in the allotted time. There will be sidewalks added to both Big Lake Road and Doddridge Avenue. While the sidewalk on the north side of Big Lake Road will continue all the way up the hill to Spring Lake Road, the south side will only go from the intersection to Pine Tree Plaza.
The entrance to Pine Tree Plaza from Big Lake Road will be moved one or two car lengths to the west and there will be right turn lanes added for both Pine Tree Plaza and Perkins on Big Lake Road.

"We heard at our first public meeting that people traveling on Big Lake Road will often put their [right turn] blinker on early and then go on to turn right at Highway 33," said Krysten Saatela, project coordinator for MnDOT.

Saatela said the roadway would have a taper [painted lines, not a physical barrier] on the other side of the Pine Tree Plaza entrance which should encourage drivers coming down Big Lake Road to get in the right turn lane for Highway 33 after the Pine Tree Plaza entranceway.

  • The Brenny-Dahl-L&M crossway - When the project is complete, drivers will no longer be able to drive straight across Highway 33 or turn left from either the Brenny-Dahl entrance or the shared entrance to L&M Supply and Premiere Theatres. While people traveling south on Highway 33 will still be able to turn left into the L&M Supply/movie theater entrance, northbound traffic will have to drive to a new turn lane at Armory Road to get to Pine Tree Plaza or Pine Valley recreation area (instead of turning at Brenny-Dahl and driving through the Armory parking lot). As well, traffic exiting the Brenny-Dahl drive will only be allowed to turn right, although vehicles and semi-trailer trucks could access the northbound Highway 33 lanes by doing a U-turn at Washington Avenue (which would have a reinforced shoulder at that location to allow semis to make the turn).

As well, the BP Little Store at the corner of Doddridge and Highway 33 would lose the driveway closest to the highway, but gain a "right-turn-in, right-turn-out" driveway behind the gas station on Highway 33 itself, which should help improve traffic flow, assistant county engineer Milt Hagen said.
Not everyone was happy with the preliminary plans.

Brenny-Dahl owner Doug Carlson said he would rather see traffic lights at the intersection where his driveway meets Highway 33 and have the city close the intersection leading into Armory Road.

Mayor Bruce Ahlgren said he was sure project engineers would take his comments under consideration, although Saatela had earlier pointed out that the road in front of the Armory is in fact a private drive, not a public roadway.

For more information, search for the Highway 33 Cloquet project page at www.dot.state.mn.us .

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