Drivers forced to ‘play chicken’ near Lakeville school

County plans to unveil study options at March 21 open house

Some Kenwood Trail Middle School parents say they are “playing chicken” to drive their

This intersection at County Road 50 and 185th Street (County Road 60) is slated to become a two-lane roundabout. Construction is to begin next year. Photo by Laura Adelmann
This intersection at County Road 50 and 185th Street (County Road 60) is slated to become a two-lane roundabout. Construction is to begin next year. Photo by Laura Adelmann

children to and from school.

“Getting in and out of the entrances is every challenging,” said Kenwood Trail Middle School parent David Domack. “You just sometimes wonder if you’re going to get out alive.”

Kenwood Trail Middle School is perched atop a hill on a curved part of County Road 50, Lakeville’s most heavily traveled north-south connector to I-35.

Parents interviewed said limited visibility and few traffic gaps frequently causes traffic back-ups in the school parking lot and nearby roads that can sometimes delay their entrance onto County Road 50 by five minutes or more.

Another area where travel is compromised by traffic is just south of the school where Jaguar Avenue serves as the lake neighborhood’s only access point.

Congestion concerns regarding those areas have increased in the past few years as Dakota County and Lakeville officials began plans to in 2014 build a two-lane roundabout at the County Road 50/185th Street (County Road 60) intersection just north of Kenwood Trail Middle School.

The $5.8 million project, determined to be a safer, more cost-effective way to handle traffic volumes in the area, also widens County Roads 50 and 60 to four lanes from the intersection to Jurel Way on County Road 60 and to Orchard Trail on County Road 50.

The possibility of widening County Road 50 to four lanes south of the intersection near the school and Jaguar Avenue is problematic due to right-of-way costs and logistics as that area of the road is flanked with development that includes longtime businesses, homes and railroad tracks that enjoy federal protections and are not preempted by state and local laws.

Some residents, including James Blanchard, a 45-year Jaguar Path resident and retired engineer, worry that the roundabout may not slow traffic enough to allow for better access onto County Road 50 south of the intersection.

Blanchard added that property along County Road 50 is slated for development, including the old Cross Nursery property, and he questioned how it would handle more local drivers and increased traffic flows through the roundabout.

“I’m quite concerned,” Blanchard said. “Right now, it’s count to three, smash the gas and go.”

Dakota County is expected to present study findings that project how a roundabout would affect traffic along the corridor at a March 21 open house at Kenwood Trail Middle School from 4-7 p.m. with a presentation at 5:30 p.m.
Although the study modeling is not complete, Assistant Dakota County Engineer Brian Sorenson told Lakeville City Council members at a Feb. 25 workshop that the models are showing “very little change” in time gaps between vehicles along County Road 50.

He added that the models did not show the roundabout adding to the problem.

Lakeville City Administrator Steve Mielke said the study’s major issue is when to improve the corridor to four lanes.

“The amount of traffic on County Road 50 is reaching a point where it does not have the capacity to carry increasing traffic loads,” he said.

Former Lakeville City Administrator and current Lakeville School Board Member Bob Erickson is advocating that the county relocate the traffic signal now at County Roads 50/60 intersection down the road to 192nd Street, across from Kenwood Trail Middle School’s north driveway.

That idea has the support of Kenwood Trail Middle School parent Brenda Luehr, who said she worries without change a serious accident, with deadly injury is nearly inevitable.

“You’re just dodging the bullet trying to get across” to the school, Luehr said. She called County Road 50 “treacherous” in the morning.

“Something eventually’s gong to happen there,” Luehr said.

Luehr’s 12-year-old daughter Sydney, a seventh-grader at Kenwood Trail Middle School, said many people are traveling fast on the road.

“I feel like they need to just put in a stoplight to like slow them down,” she said.

Luehr said she feels so strongly about the need to control the traffic, she would pay additional taxes to fund the improvement.

“It should have been looked at a long time ago,” Luehr said. “It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

Mielke said as the county’s study will indicate if a signal or other traffic control at 192nd Street would help middle school traffic get onto County Road 50.

Kenwood Trail Middle School Principal Kate Eisenthal said she has worked at the school for about 20 years and has seen traffic concerns increase.

She said parents are aware of the issues and are careful drivers in and around the school.

No student walks across County Road 50, and a dean manages traffic flow to help ensure safety. A neon yellow walkway caution sign is in the parking lot in front of the main doors.

Lakeville Mayor Matt Little said in an interview that he liked Erickson’s idea, but needs to see the county’s data and options before pursuing the option with the county.

“There are issues, clear and identifiable issues that Jaguar and the school has identified,” Little said. “We need to be talking about this … we need to be talking about solutions instead of just problems.”