MINNEAPOLIS — Traffic was moving right along at a nice clip on US Highway 8 in Chisago County Thursday and the sun was shining on clean, clear pavement. At first glance it was hard to imagine how this two-lane stretch of roadway was dubbed "The Highway of Death" by locals.
"You don't get that moniker unless it's earned, and his has been over the years," Chisago County Engineer Joe Triplett told KARE.
The highway has a long history of fatal collisions, which is one of the reasons why the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation launched a study of proposed safety improvements back in 2008.
The highway is not especially curvy or hilly. It's just not designed to carry as much traffic as it does.
Triplett says Highway 8 carries an average of 22,000 vehicles a day. That number spikes on weekends when people travel between the Twin Cities and northern Wisconsin's cabin country, and backups are common.
"You get the people who want to go 40 miles per hour and the ones who want to go 70, and with very few places to pass," Triplett explained.
"You have all those cars crammed on this road there's going to be an awful lot of opportunities for bad decisions and poor choices."
Chisago County officials want to widen the highway to four lanes in a seven-mile section that runs between Chisago City and the intersection with Highway 61, just north of Forest Lake. They'd also like to limit access to the highway by constructing more frontage roads.
Triplett said currently there are 60 access points, or places where people can enter the highway, over that stretch of roadway. That includes driveways, intersecting local roads and farm field entrances.
"We're looking to fix that, and in order to fix it we've got to address capacity and access issues."
MnDOT recognized the need to widen the highway years ago, but the project hasn't received state or federal funding yet. Chisago County will be applying for federal and state grants in hopes of paying for it without placing an added burden on local property taxpayers.
Open House on Highway 8 project
Chisago County is holding an open house to gather public input and explain the early design concepts for the project.
It will be Tuesday, Jan. 28 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at Lord of the Lakes Lutheran Church, 25402 Itasca Avenue North, Forest Lake.