Planning a trip to Mayo? Please be careful

Dennis DalmanColumn0 Comments

Please beware of the intersection of Hwy. 52 and County Road 9, which is 30 miles north of Rochester and nine miles south of Cannon Falls.

“Why?” you may ask. “Why worry about an intersection in faraway Goodhue County?”

The answer is because, especially at my age, I am aware of numerous friends and acquaintances in the central Minnesota area who take medical trips to and from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Most of them take Hwy. 52 out of the Twin Cities to get there, and they cross CR 9. Recently, one of those travelers was one of my nieces – 30-year-old Aleah Martagon, a revenue cycle analyst for Hennepin County Medical Center. She had just driven two girlfriends to the Mayo, where their father was dying of cancer. An hour after dropping the girls off, Aleah herself was returned to the hospital via helicopter. She had suffered a broken neck in a horrific crash at 52/9. Northbound on 52, she and an eastbound male driver on CR 9 collided at 5 p.m.

Thankfully, both survived, although Aleah is in a neck brace and will face months of pain and therapy. Doctors said she came within a millimeter of being paralyzed or killed.

The reason I’m warning everyone about that intersection is because it is considered one of the most dangerous in Minnesota. How ironic – or appropriate? – it is located not too far from the great Mayo Clinic so its victims can get such quick and expert medical care, as my niece did.

After doing some research, I discovered in just the last 11 months, there have been many accidents there – three resulting in deaths. Last October, a Chicago couple was killed at the intersection. Ten days later, a 27-year-old man was killed there.

And that’s not all. From 2000-2010, there were 62 crashes at 52/9 – seven of them resulting in fatalities.

MnDOT officials admit that intersection is problematic, to say the least. They had considered making Hwy. 52 an overpass there. Instead they decided to do an experiment (“study,” as they call it) – placing electronic sensor lights there to let motorists know when to stop and when to proceed with caution when there is a “safe gap.” The study is a joint project between MnDOT and the University of Minnesota. Well, obviously, the experiment – the study – has proven to be a dismal failure, with 10 deaths and who only knows how many injuries – serious and minor. A newspaper and TV station in that area – once again – covered the dangers of that intersection after Aleah’s accident there. They described Aleah’s injury as “minor,” although I can’t figure out what’s “minor” about an extremely bad broken neck. What’s worrisome is if countless serious injuries at that intersection have been described as “minor” in the media does the public have a true understanding of just how bad that intersection is?

The sensor-sign study will not end until the end of 2012. After that, MnDOT will revisit the issue. Understandably, MnDOT does not have enough funds to construct any multi-million-dollar changes at 52/9. I have written MnDOT a letter asking them why they cannot at least put up a bright, blinking sign that says, “Caution: Dangerous Intersection Ahead.” Or something to that effect. Of course, every intersection can be dangerous, but at those where there have been so many collisions, a flashing reminder might be just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. They should install such signs at all of the worst intersections throughout the state. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety and MnDOT know where they are; they should share that information via signage, with us, the motorists. (I’ve recently seen a couple of billboards along Division and Roosevelt Drive claiming where those two roads intersect with Highway 15 as two of the deadliest intersections in Minnesota.)

A woman named Anne Lufkin, who was very badly injured three years ago at 52/9, recently told a TV interviewer: “So many deaths and so much maiming, so many lawsuits, so much frustration and sadness.”

I’ve already warned friends and acquaintances about that intersection. However, I want to caution others who may be planning a trip – or return trip – to the Mayo Clinic. Please, please be careful at 52/9.

Author: Dennis Dalman

news@thenewsleaders.com

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.

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