The site of a crash where two Iron Range boys were killed in a crash last weekend in Nashwauk will be updated next summer with the installation of a reduced conflict intersection, or J-turn, an official with the Minnesota Department of Transportation said this week.
The intersection at Minnesota highways 65 and 169 was targeted even prior to Saturday’s fatal crash, said Duane Hill, district engineer for MnDOT’s northwestern Minnesota office in Duluth.
Calling it a tragedy with “a big impact on the community,” Hill said the location came on the radar during development of a highway safety improvement plan for the region.
“We know this has been a bad location,” Hill said. “We have a project funded for 2020. The work will occur next summer.”
A four-year MnDOT planning document from last September shows a $400,000 project to install a reduced conflict intersection listed on the schedule.
The weekend crash took the lives of Aiden Patrick Hall, 16, of Grand Rapids, and Trent Casey Salminen, 13, of Hibbing — passengers in a vehicle that was making a left-hand turn attempting to cross southbound 169 onto Highway 65. Their car was struck by a camper vehicle heading south on Highway 169.
Services for Hall have been announced for Thursday at River of Life Church in Grand Rapids.
Hill said he is also in the process of scheduling a meeting with community members to determine if anything can be done to remedy the intersection in the interim, leading up to construction next year.
The junction angles from 169 to 65 at a point where southbound 169 bends toward crossing traffic. The current layout forces drivers to confront a passenger door pillar in their line of sight while they observe for oncoming traffic from southbound Highway 169.
Once constructed, a J-turn will carry northbound traffic past the current intersection, directing vehicles into a U-turn and onto southbound 169 before making a right-hand turn onto Highway 65.
The project will also realign highways 65 and 169 at a right angle — “which should also help,” Hill said.
“Left-turning traffic will be looking through their front windshield at oncoming traffic,” Hill said, describing what drivers will encounter as they carry into the U-turn from northbound to southbound 169.
A separate, long-planned $2 million resurfacing project for roughly a mile of Highway 65 will take place through Nashwauk this summer.
Once used sparingly, J-turns have expanded in popularity across the state. MnDOT research shows J-turns offer a 70 percent reduction in fatal crashes and 42% reduction in injury crashes.
MnDOT has already sought Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program funds for the J-turn project, Hill said.
“Unfortunately, it is one summer too late,” he said.