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Concerns surface again after Highway 3 crash

An accident involving a motorcycle and an SUV last week has renewed concerns about the safety of a stretch of Highway 3 in Empire Township.

Residents say the 50-mile-per-hour speed limit near the intersection of Highway 3 and 200th Street is too fast for an area dense with driveways and street accesses, and describe white-knuckle moments trying to turn onto or off of the highway.

“There’s three turn lanes in that individual area there, and two of them have a bypass,” said Bob Lester, who has lived in the area since 1988. “The farthest south one, that one doesn’t have a passing lane, but people constantly blow by on the shoulder.”

Nobody is more aware of the dangers of that stretch than Tim Milan. His son, Matt, was killed right outside of his house 10 years ago this month when a car in which he was a passenger turned in front of oncoming traffic while trying to get into the driveway.

That accident led Milan and his wife, Julie, to lobby the Minnesota Department of Transportation for changes on Highway 3. The result was a slight drop in the speed limit — from 55 to 50 — and an electronic speed sign installed by Empire Township to let drivers know how fast they’re going.

The Milans saw the changes as a half measure then, and Tim Milan still believes the speed limit should be lower. He said there are some cases where turn lanes cut across driveways. From his front yard, he frequently hears tires squealing as people turning onto Highway 3, and many people in the neighborhood have complained about cars blowing by them on the shoulder as they wait for an opening to make a left turn off of 3.

“The problem as I saw it then was, the speed limit was 55,” Tim Milan said. “Everybody — and I can include myself in this — we’ve done it before where we’re running late for something so maybe you go between five and eight miles per hour over the speed limit figuring they’re not going to bother you.”

Others have similar complaints.

“When you pass over (County Road) 66, anywhere from there to the golf course, people are going 65,” said Robin Brettin, who has lived nearby since 2001. “The turning points sneak up on you. 200th Street for example, It’s hard to even tell from a distance there’s a road there.”

Matt Milan’s death isn’t the only one on that stretch of road. Not long after that accident, a motorcyclist was killed near the Milan home when a Dakota County Sheriff’s Deputy made a U turn on Highway 3 to respond to a call.

The Minnesota State Patrol is the primary law enforcement body responsible for Highway 3. The Patrol handles accidents on the road, but Farmington police often assist. Since May of 2013, police have responded to at least 40 property damage accidents and four personal injury accidents on the stretch of highway near 200th Street. Some of those may have been cars sliding off the road in icy conditions.

Farmington police chief Brian Lindquist said the area did not immediately stand out to him as a problem point.

MnDOT has construction planned this summer on Highway 3. Work includes resurfacing and some changes at road accesses farther south. It does not include speed changes or other improvements likely to have a significant impact on the issues that have residents concerned.

“This isn’t about my son,” Milan said. “There isn’t a damn thing anybody can do about that, but I didn’t want to see anyone have to go through what we went through.

“I can guarantee … if nothing changes, sometime in the next three to four years it’s going to happen again.”

Last week’s accident

The most recent accident on Highway 3 happened May 19 at the intersection of Highway 3 and 200th Street.

According to Minnesota State Patrol reports, Daniel Schulte of Farmington was southbound on Highway 3 riding a 2002 Harley Davidson. Nicole Swanson, also of Farmington, was westbound on 200th Street in a Mercury Mountaineer. Swanson pulled onto Highway 3 and collided with Schulte.

Schulte was seriously injured and was taken to the hospital by helicopter. Swanson did not receive any apparent injuries.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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