The Minnesota Department of Transportation is looking to smooth out traffic and improve safety, as it looks to redesign a heavily traversed section of London Road between 26th Avenue East and Lester River.

Project Manager Tom Lamb said engineers will focus on three intersections in particular: at 26th, 40th and 60th avenues east.

In an effort to ease traffic backups at 40th Avenue East, a signal at the intersection could be replaced with a roundabout, although Lamb said it's not yet clear if there is sufficient room to do so.

He noted the signal at 26th Avenue East also is outdated and in need of replacement. A traffic study is slated to explore options there, as well, including the possibility of yet a second roundabout.

"We know that cars, especially after they come out of the 26th are kind of on a racetrack, with the zipper merge and people jostling for position there going quite fast as they're heading north," Lamb said.

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The Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to conduct a traffic study at the intersection of London Road and 60th Avenue East as it contemplates how to improve safety, especially for pedestrians trying to cross the busy thoroughfare.
Peter Passi / Duluth News Tribune
The Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to conduct a traffic study at the intersection of London Road and 60th Avenue East as it contemplates how to improve safety, especially for pedestrians trying to cross the busy thoroughfare. Peter Passi / Duluth News Tribune

The junction at 60th Avenue was flagged by survey respondents as one of the London Road intersections most in need of improvement, with pedestrians often struggling to cross safely there, especially where fast-moving southbound traffic is expected to throttle down to 30 mph. Lamb said a traffic study will be conducted there, too.

To improve pedestrian safety, Lamb said marked crosswalks are being considered, with demonstration crossing projects likely in the works at 60th and 36th avenues east next summer.

Plans also call for a sidewalk to be installed on the upper side of London Road between 29th and 40th avenues east for the first time. Lamb said MnDOT will look to upgrade sidewalks throughout the corridor, making them more accessible for people with disabilities. He estimated about half of existing walkways will be replaced.

More than 2,200 people responded to a survey asking about their concerns regarding the thoroughfare. Many folks expressed consternation about the high speed of traffic, especially where Interstate 35 dumps northbound traffic onto London Road at 26th Avenue East.

But yet other respondents said more should be done to remove impediments and improve the flow of traffic through the area.

Lamb said the seemingly contrary views illustrate the "London Road is a complex corridor with competing interests."

MnDOT Traffic Engineer Jim Miles said there are no plans to widen London Road or increase the posted speeds. Rather, he talked about narrowing the width of traffic lanes and using crosswalk safety islands to further constrict traffic.

"The key to controlling speed is not necessarily to change the signs but it is to create an environment where people want to travel at an appropriate speed," Miles said.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is considering whether a roundabout at the intersection of London Road and 40th Avenue East could ease traffic backups and improve safety, as it looks to redo the street in 2025. 
Peter Passi / Duluth News Tribune
The Minnesota Department of Transportation is considering whether a roundabout at the intersection of London Road and 40th Avenue East could ease traffic backups and improve safety, as it looks to redo the street in 2025. Peter Passi / Duluth News Tribune

About 30 boulevard ash trees on London Road are infested with emerald ash borers and are slated to be removed yet this fall in anticipation of the project. They will be replaced when the road is reconditioned in 2025, Lamb said.

During a Wednesday evening public meeting to discuss the project, a London Road resident asked if the trees couldn't be saved with treatment.

MnDOT Forester Dave Hanson said that was no longer possible.

"Most of those trees that are along London Road are quite severely infested," he said.

"In order for treatment to be successful, you need to have more than a 50% canopy. Once you start seeing a lot of die-back up in that canopy, the tree isn't functioning well enough to pull the chemical treatment up into those branches and leaves to actually protect the tree," Hanson explained.

Lamb predicts the 2025 project should extend London Road's useful life for another 10 to 15 years. After that, the roadway will be due for a full reconstruction.