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Hermantown roundabout, J-turn to address traffic issues

Improvements are aimed for Midway Road and Miller Trunk intersections with state Highway 194.

Road intersection.
Motorists drive through or wait for the light to change at the intersection of Minnesota Highway 194 and Midway Road on Thursday. The Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to turn the intersection, the scene of many serious crashes over the years, into a roundabout.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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HERMANTOWN — Beginning this summer, one of the major arteries carrying traffic east toward Duluth is getting two years worth of intersection upgrades.

Minnesota Highway 194 intersections at Midway Road and U.S. Highway 53 will be reconstructed — the first into a roundabout, the second a J-turn.

Those nearby intersections will be followed by a pavement replacement and intersection reconstruction project in 2023, when a roundabout will be installed at the crossing with U.S. Highway 2.

Federal money will support much of the work as the Minnesota Department of Transportation partners with St. Louis County on the projects.

Project manager Doug Kerfeld, based in MnDOT’s Duluth office, called the work “safety-driven.”


194 roadwork.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Describing the convergence of highways 194 and 53 and Lindahl Road, Kerfeld said: “The existing geometrics of this intersection make it very complicated and unsafe to pass through. This is five-legged with two high-volume highways intersecting a local roadway.”

Highway 194 notoriously skews at an angle to meet 53, forcing drivers to crane their necks looking over their left shoulders to judge the speed of oncoming traffic. Because of that, Kerfeld said, rear-end collisions are most prominent at the site. The second-highest crashes are right-angle or T-bone crashes with six registered in the six years through 2021.

A reduced-conflict intersection, or J-turn, at the location “reduces crashes in just about every situation that can occur,” Kerfeld said, “particularly, the fatal and serious-injury right-angle crashes.”

The J-turns don’t allow for crossing of four lanes of highway, instead requiring drivers to turn right with the flow of traffic in order to come back toward their destination using an engineered U-turn several hundred feet later.

In addition to J-turns for travel both north and south along Highway 53, Highway 194 will be realigned to meet Highway 53.

“As you pull up to the intersection, you’ll be sitting at a right angle with a stop (sign) and better sight conditions,” Kerfeld said.

The $2.5 million project will be paid for with 90% federal money from a Department of Transportation safety program, and a 10% state match.

Along with the new J-turn intersection with Highway 53, MnDOT will bid the $4 million roundabout farther west at Midway Road as one project, using the same contractor when construction begins on both Highway 194 intersections in June.


Crash scene.
A Minnesota State Patrol investigator examines the car that collided with a tanker truck at the intersections of Minnesota Highway 194 and Midway Road on Oct. 19, 2015. The driver of the car was fatally injured when, while driving east on 194, she collided with the truck, which was northbound on Midway. The intersection is controlled by traffic lights, but has been the scene of serious crashes over the years as traffic approaches the intersection at high speeds.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

The roundabout will replace traffic signals currently in place at Midway Road.

“The traffic signal there was at the end of its useful life,” Kerfeld said, noting the county and MnDOT agreed on a need for a better long-term alternative.

“The intersection has a high rate of fatal and serious injury crashes — greater than 10 times the state average,” Kerfeld said.

Because the intersection will be completely rebuilt, it’ll be closed during construction, forcing travelers along Midway Road and Highway 194 to reroute at either Solway or Maple Grove roads.

“We’re fortunate we’ve got some high-quality capacity roads we can detour the traffic,” Kerfeld told the News Tribune. “It definitely helps us speed construction  along.”

194 and Midway road detours.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

The roundabout will feature full pedestrian crossings and sidewalks.

Finally, in 2023, comes a $6 million project along 3 miles of Highway 194, including repavement of the highway and exit ramps with Minnesota Highway 33, where new lighting will also be installed.

The roundabout with Highway 2 farther east comes after MnDOT has tried other remedies for a high crash rate there, including flashing lights at stop signs and warning signs for approaching vehicles.


“The intersection has had a significant crash history over the years,” Kerfeld said, “and these improvements have had limited success addressing the crash issues.”

Conversely, roundabouts greatly reduce the severity of crashes while maintaining traffic flow through intersections, Kerfeld said.

“It’s going to help move traffic,” Kerfeld added. “Coming from Proctor on Highway 2, you won’t have to stop and wait. You’ll keep moving in all directions in a better way.”

Highway intersection.
Motorists on Minnesota Highway 194 wait to turn onto U.S. Highway 53.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Natalie Peterson's seat was already up for election this year, so the position will remain vacant until it is filled by voters in November.

Brady Slater covers St. Louis County and transportation for the Duluth News Tribune. He's a veteran journalist, and a University of Pittsburgh graduate who was born and raised in the Northland. He can be reached by emailing bslater@duluthnews.com or by calling or texting 218-721-2724.
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