by Sarah Squires
Apple Blossom Drive has been a topic of heated discussions among Winona County leaders in recent months, with the assertion from highway staff that trees and vegetation along the famed flowery route needs to be trimmed back to address safety issues.
But County Board members hesitant to cast a vote that might spoil the beauty of the rural scenic drive asked that the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) take a closer look at the speed limit on the roadway as a first step to improve safety, and it appears that the state Transportation Commissioner may recommend it be lowered from 55 mph to 50.
Recommendations from the recent Mn/DOT study suggest that along with the speed limit reduction, the county should also consider adding guardrails to some of the steep curves, increase the width of edge lines to clearly denote the delineation between the roadway and shoulder, and cut down some vegetation along the right-of-way.
“Trimming and/or clearing [trees and vegetation along the road] should be evaluated to increase sight distance and improve safety,” wrote Gregory Wagner, Mn/DOT District 6 representative wrote in a letter to the county on the issue.
Discussions earlier this year about removing trees and vegetation along the roadway garnered objections from neighboring residents, who said that safety concerns along the highway could be addressed with a lower speed limit. County Commissioners spared the area from the ax during those earlier talks, but pushed for the Mn/DOT speed study and OK’d the county highway engineer to pursue right-of-way acquisition along the road in areas where the county doesn’t have agreements with landowners for easements along the road.
County Commissioners were set to discuss the issue Tuesday night just after press time at the Winona Post. If the County Board agrees with the reduced speed limit, it must wait for the Transportation Commissioner’s order before erecting new speed limit signs.