Baker Road will become a three-lane road with left hand turn lanes this summer under a Hennepin County proposal announced earlier this month.
Baker Road currently has four lanes, two in each direction, with no turn lanes.
The proposed three-lane design consists of one lane of traffic in each direction with a middle lane used for left-hand turns. A widened shoulder on both sides will accommodate pedestrians and cyclists and will act as an unmarked right hand turn lane at intersections, according the county plans.
The redesign proposal is part of a planned resurfacing of County Road 60 – which consists of Mitchell and Baker roads – sometime in the summer of 2021, between Martin Drive and the bridge under I-494, according to Chad Ellos, Hennepin County transportation planning division manager.
The lane reconfiguration component would only occur north of Valley Road.
The project also includes upgrading pedestrian ramps along the route to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Reduced crashes expected
Crashes along the route potentially would be reduced by between 30 and 50 percent with the change, according to the county.
It would also reduce the chances of a “multiple threat crash,” which occurs when a vehicle stops for a person crossing the street and a second vehicle swerves around the stopped car and hits the pedestrian.
The new configuration would reduce left-turn and rear-end crashes because of the dedicated center turn lane, according to Emily Kettell, senior transportation planner for Hennepin County.
Between 2016 and 2019, 109 crashes occurred on Mitchell Road and Baker Road between Martin Drive and the I-494 bridge, according to county data. Many crashes go unreported and many near-miss crashes are not reported, Kettell said.
Between Martin Drive and I-494, 53% of the crashes were either rear-end or left-turn crashes, according to county data.
Of the 109 reported crashes, 33 occurred between Valley View Road and County Road 62, which is the area being considered for restriping.
Negative and positive feedback
Residents along the Baker Road corridor received notices about the project in early January.
Recent posts on Facebook’s Nextdoor expressed displeasure with the county’s proposal, citing a perceived lack of accidents and difficulty making left hand turns out of adjacent neighborhoods onto Baker Road. Some suggested that the change would make matters worse.
“Contrary to what (the county says), I predict it will cause more accidents with people becoming impatient and darting into traffic to make their turn,” one poster wrote.
Concerns received by the county thus far are related to how the project was initiated, traffic operations and crashes, according to Ellos.
Ellos said that it is common practice to review traffic and safety when doing resurfacing projects. “The change is recommended by Hennepin County staff based on the historic traffic volumes, safety data and research and experience gained doing similar roadways.”
Comments received by the county in support of the striping changes focus on potential reduced speeds and fewer crashes, Ellos said. “With a three-lane configuration, we generally see a slight reduction in speeds along the corridor,” he said. The road’s current speed limit is 40 mph.
Previous project dropped
A similar project was proposed in 2011, according to Robert Ellis, City of Eden Prairie director of public works. That project was dropped after a vast majority of nearby residents voiced a preference to leave the road as four lanes.
The city has since identified Baker Road as a heavy pedestrian and bicycle corridor open to potential improvements, Ellis said.
While no marked bicycle lanes are part of this project, the 7- to 10-foot shoulders would provide space for cyclists, according to county officials.
Edenvale Blvd. issues noted
Ellis acknowledged that previous traffic studies indicate that motorists using the intersection of Edenvale Blvd. and Baker Road might experience negative effects.
Traffic turning left from eastbound Edenvale to northbound Baker would experience delays of between five and 20 seconds at peak morning times under the proposed plan, he said.
Planners take that into consideration and compare it to expected benefits, Ellis said. “I think there are a lot of good technical reasons that support going to a three lane,” he said.
While Ellis said he understands the frustrations the Edenvale Road issue might cause, he does see the proposal’s benefits.
“If you have an opportunity to reduce accidents by as much as … 50%, I think it’s your responsibility to ask the people, ‘Would this change be worth it?’” he said.
“Unfortunately, this thing has been branded a lane reduction project, when what it’s actually doing is providing a dedicated left turn lane, two thru lanes and two continuous right hand turn lanes,” Ellis added. “It’s almost turning it into a five-lane at intersections.”
Even so, he understands that these kinds of changes raise anxiety.
“People have lived in this neighborhood for 20 or 30 years and they’ve always driven it as a four lane,” Ellis said.
The city has not taken an official position on the project, Ellis said. “We want to see what comments (the county gets) to determine what local residents are thinking about this project,” he said.
“The city wants to make sure our council has the opportunity to weight in before a decision is made,” Ellis said.
The county had intended to bring the proposal to the Eden Prairie City Council on Jan. 19, but that presentation was postponed.
“We are working with the city to determine the appropriate timing to bring this project to the city council,” Ellos said.
Residents can comment on the project on the Hennepin County website until Feb. 16 .