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WisDOT garners support to improve safety on U.S. 53

Rescue crews work at an accident scene at L & US Hwy 53 in this 2008 photo. Jed Carlson/

A proposal for safety improvements could enhance safety on U.S. Highway 53 in Bennett.

At the intersection of 53 and County Road L the county is experiencing crashes — including a fatal one about 1½ years ago, according to Greg Helgeson with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Others have including injuries — one incapacitating — and another resulted in a rollover after a driver swerved to avoid a crash. He said after people cross the median, the crash occurs on the far side of the U.S. highway.

Helgeson said there have been eight crashes at the intersection since 2011.

"This concerns us — the types of crashes, the trends that we’re seeing and the type of severe crashes that we’re seeing concerns us much," Helgeson said.

It was that kind of history that prompted WisDOT to reconstruct the intersection of County Highway B and U.S. 53 with a J-turn in 2011, which were controversial at the time, but reduced crashes by 70 percent.

However, the state isn’t proposing the same kind of fix at County Highway L. The fix would be similar to the restricted control U-turn like one built at County Highway B and U.S. 53 in Washburn County, south of Spooner.

Instead of changing lanes to navigate the J-turn, drivers would immediately cross to a restricted lane adjacent to the median to follow a U-turn about 600 feet from the original intersection, then enter another restricted lane on the right side of the road across the highway to turn back onto the county road.

Helgeson said in the year since the restricted U-turn was constructed in Washburn County, there have been no crashes when it previously has a similar crash history to what’s happening in Bennett.

"This is going to take considerably less time because we’re going to pull this much closer," Helgeson said, comparing the U-turn, which is about 600 feet, to the 1,600-foot distance for the J-turn in Hawthorne.

The plan would include overhead lighting so people can more easily see the restricted lanes and U-turn.

Helgeson said the goal is to submit the plan for Highway Safety Improvement Program funding due in February. He said it could be constructed in 2019 or 2020.

"We’ll try to get it done as soon as we can," Helgeson said.

Douglas County’s Infrastructure and Transportation Committee gave its support to the plan.

Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert questioned what efforts would be made to educate the public on how to use the restricted crossing U-turn.

Helgeson said signage on the road will instruct people how to use the U-turn.

"We tell you where to go," Helgeson said.

"The J, we didn’t like it at the start, but we didn’t have an alternative and it worked out pretty well," said Committee Chairman Nick Baker. "This is something really different and the people are going to have to learn it."