Fatal intersection discussed

Changes likely at Ruthville crossing

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Col. Matthew Brooks, Minot Air Force Base installation commander, speaks during a public input session regarding the safety of the intersection of U.S. Highway 83 and Ward County Road 8 at Ruthville. The session was held at the Minot Municipal Auditorium Wednesday. An airman was killed at the Ruthville intersection in February.

It was highly emotional at times. A variety of opinions were heard but all concluded that something needed to be done. That was the gist of what happened during a public forum regarding the U.S. Highway 83 and Ward County Road 8 intersection at Ruthville.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation forum was held at the Minot Auditorium Wednesday morning. It was scheduled in the wake of a fatal accident at the Ruthville intersection on Feb. 15 of this year. William Buchanan, 21, Minot Air Force Base, was killed when his southbound vehicle slid underneath a semi-trailer traveling east to west and attempting to cross four traffic lanes.

A single overhead flashing light, amber in color, warns motorists of the intersection on Highway 83. Vehicles attempting to cross Highway 83 on Ward County 8 encounter yield signs. The speed limit on Highway 83 at that location is 70 mph. It has proven to be a bad combination.

Tom Sorel, DOT director, addressed the gathering at the outset. He urged those in attendance to provide their input.

“A community solution is the best way to move forward,” said Sorel. “We really need to hear from you.”

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Tom Sorel, director, North Dakota Department of Transportation, left, and Mark Nelson, DOT safety division, were among those listening to comments during a community forum held in Minot Wednesday. The forum was called to discuss possible changes at the Ruthville intersection north of Minot.

One of the first to speak at the open microphone forum was a woman whose son was involved in a serious accident at the intersection in 2008. After six months in a coma he still suffers from the effects of a brain injury as a result of the accident. Another man who had spent time at Minot AFB, moved away and returned a few years later, said he was still being told to “beware of Ruthville.”

“Don’t wait to do something. Start tomorrow,” he added.

Randy Hauck, chairman of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee, asked for a change in the speed limit from Minot AFB to Minot from 70 miles per hour to 55 mph. The stretch of highway includes the intersection deemed dangerous by many.

“Ruthville is the only community without a speed limit on Highway 83 from the base to Bismarck,” said Hauck. “It has double the traffic count of Coleharbor.”

Coleharbor is located approximately 50 miles south of Minot.

John Fjeldahl, Ward County commissioner, agreed with Hauck that a lower speed limit should be part of the solution to a safer intersection.

“It’s an issue that’s been going on for a long time,” said Fjeldahl. “When something serious like a death happens it comes to the forefront again and then we forget it. Some things can be done almost immediately. Slow the speed down. Get these meetings going as fast as we can. The sooner we get after it the better it is for everybody.”

Some in attendance disagreed with a lower speed limit, saying that people drive as fast as they want anyway. Several people pointed out that large vehicles, such as farm equipment or semi-trailers, were using the intersection more frequently than in the past and that some drivers were not familiar with how to drive when encountering them.

Col. Matthew Brooks, Minot AFB installation commander, took several turns at the microphone. His message was repeatedly that Minot AFB would work closely with state and county officials in resolving safety issues at the intersection, including more education of airmen and their families who travel Highway 83 on a regular basis.

“Education is a big part of this, both city and county,” said Sorel. “We are committed to this. I do feel there are some thing we could do very quickly here.”

Sorel spoke about technological advances in traffic control that might be an option at Ruthville.

“Technology is available to tell people on crossing roads when they can go, when there is a sufficient gap in traffic,” said Sorel. “It’s pretty current technology and it works well.”

Sorel said he was considering some temporary solutions that “we can do easily” while his department develops more permanent solutions to enhance traffic safety at the intersection. Other issues, such as driving habits, are a more difficult fix.

“We can engineer anything but it’s often the behavioral side that we have to deal with,” concluded Sorel.

Eric Peterson, North Dakota State Patrol, noted the dangers at the Ruthville intersection and other intersections in the region. Then, he added, there are limitation to what the State Patrol can do.

“We have a lot of different options for enforcement but we can’t be there all the time,” reminded Peterson.