BY MIKE OPAT
For years, local media – including this paper – have documented and reported the safety hazards of Highway 252’s six signal lights between Interstate 694 and Trunk Highway 610 through the cities of Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center.
Anyone who has driven this stretch of Highway 252 can appreciate the urgency of the situation. The corridor’s crash history mixed with the plodding pace of traffic and emerging population trends have created a menace to mobility in Hennepin County’s northern suburbs. Just as Highway 100 once robbed commuters of precious time before its successful conversion to a freeway, Highway 252 robs us today and must be fixed.
The justifications are numerous. Consistently, 66th Avenue, 70th Avenue, 73rd Avenue, Brookdale Drive, Humboldt (81st Avenue), and 85th Avenue rank among the state’s worst, most crash-prone intersections. Three of these intersections rank in the top 17 for safety concerns, and 66th Avenue has the unfortunate distinction of falling in the state’s top 10 most dangerous. Five of the intersections are ranked near the top of the Metropolitan Council’s grade-separation priorities, including three of the top four (66th, 85th, Brookdale Drive).
The crash rates are an indication of the reality that Highway 252 already operates as a freeway, but is not designed that way. Even more people will drive 252 in the years ahead. Simply put, demands dictate freeway-type improvements.
Support from partners will be necessary to realize this vision. Highway 252 is a state road, 85th Avenue is a county road, and the other intersections are managed by the cities. Brooklyn Center has already worked hard to secure federal money to help rebuild 66th Avenue. Last year, I sponsored an amendment to the Hennepin County budget to fund the current study of alternatives and future construction. Work is underway to accomplish design and implementation plans, organize public outreach, and seek preferred alternatives for improving the intersections while retaining as much local access as possible via overpasses or other means.
Beginning this summer, representatives and staff from all local partners will convene to work through the technical and policy decisions going forward. Business owners, homeowners, and any interested neighbors will be asked to get involved, and all are encouraged to participate. Converting Highway 252 is a huge project. It will take some time and buy-in from many. But the more aggressive we as a community plan and promote this fix, the sooner it will happen.
Mike Opat represents District 1 of Hennepin County on the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners.