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MnDOT responds to grumbles about rumbles

St. Louis County workers Scott Mottonen (left) and Mark Johnson work together to fill rumble strips along County Highway 4 about six miles south of Biwabik in 2011. The slurry is made of a mix of cement, taconite tailings, oil and water. Crews will soon begin filling similar strips along the centerline of Highway 61. Photo by Bob King.

After an outpouring of complaints, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has decided to fill centerline rumble strips on Highway 61 in Lake and Cook counties.

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MnDOT officials estimate that a few hundred individual contacts, including a petition with more than 300 signatures, have been made with the agency regarding the rumble strips along that route.

“There have been a few isolated complaints (statewide),” said Beth Petrowske, public affairs director for MnDot District 1. “The area we’ve received the most complaints about by far is Highway 61 in Cook and Lake counties.”

Rumble strips are a sequence of half-inch deep gouges that are cut into the road surface. They’re designed to jar inattentive drivers who cross out of the normal driving lane. According to MnDOT, they’ve been effective in reducing the number of crashes on rural two-lanes by 9 percent.

Over the last decade, these indentations have been made along the center and fog lines on various stretches of Hwy. 61. Soon however, the calls strted coming in from people travelling on and living near the road.

“Board members have received numerous complaints from the residents and visitors of Lake County about the sounds generated from vehicles striking rumble strips,” Rich Sve said in a statement to the News-Chronicle. Subsequent efforts to follow up on the complaints indicate that visitors and residents’ observations may be founded, although no single issue has been identified as causing the louder-than-expected rumbling.

“It is difficult to say why,” Petrowske said, “(perhaps) due to variations in rumble strip design, dimensions and placement tolerances,” she said.

In a release last week, MnDOT said the housing density along Highway 61 is comparable to a suburban neighborhood and that the mix of tourist and local traffic causes increased passing – meaning more people are driving over Lake and Cook county rumble strips than those in other parts of the state, and there are more people around to hear the noise. In addition, the rumble strips in this area are up to 1/8 inch deeper than MnDOT recommends. A preliminary noise analysis showed that levels along the highway were higher than those along stretches where MnDot has performed similar studies.

Whatever the actual cause –depth of the strips, increased traffic or population density — MnDOT will be filling in the centerline strips in Lake and most of Cook County in response to noise complaints. The strips along the fog line will remain.

After receiving calls from many angry constituents, county board members welcomed the news.

“The county board is pleased with the decision MnDOT has made related to the removal of the center rumble strips on Hwy 61 in Lake County,” Sve told the News-Chronicle. “In meetings with MnDOT, we have discussed public safety as well as noise levels on local properties related to rumble strips and what is in the best interest of our residents. MnDOT has been very receptive to our concerns.”

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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