Idea for lights gets green

• Bergstrom placed initial call to city that got ball rolling after serious crash


by Jim Boyle


Kevin Bergstrom and his wife, who live near the intersection of Main Street and Highway 169 in Elk River, have often talked about how traffic at this and other nearby crossings continues through these intersections long after lights have turned yellow — and even red.

It was an Oct. 13 crash there that seriously injured a 27-year-old Ramsey motorist that was the last straw.

Emily Pieper’s Mazda station wagon was struck broadside by a truck running a red light, and the Bergstroms and their children had front row seats for the crash.

A three-vehicle crash at the intersection of Highway 169 and Main Street was the last straw for Kevin Bergstrom. He began inquiring about a change to the sequencing of lights.

A three-vehicle crash at the intersection of Highway 169 and Main Street was the last straw for Kevin Bergstrom. He began inquiring about a change to the sequencing of lights.

Pieper and her husband, Nathan, were attempting the cross the highway on a green light from the west, and the Bergstroms were coming from the east.

Pieper never made it all the way across, and the Bergstroms say a simple twist of circumstances may have prevented them from adding their vehicle to the multi-vehicle crash.

Kevin Bergstrom got out of his car to help out until emergency personnel arrived. He needed to do more, however.

Bergstrom decided to go public with his concerns via a letter to the editor to the Star News and by placing a call to the city of Elk River. The Star News published his letter, and Justin Femrite, the Elk River city engineer took his call.

Bergstrom learned from Femrite it was the Minnesota Department of Transportation that has control over the lights. Femrite agreed to place a call and express the Elk River resident’s wish that there would be a short pause between when the northbound and southbound lights turn to red and before the eastbound and westbound lights go from red to green.

MnDOT representatives came out, investigated and agreed that such a change was within acceptable levels and made the change. They even examined other intersections along the highway and considered changes at those intersections, too.

Femrite said at least two intersections have had the timing of the light sequencing changed.

“I hope it has a positive effect,” Femrite said.

Bergstrom is happy that the state took action and expressed thankfulness that Femrite took his concern seriously.

“I am thrilled to think that we may have saved another bad accident from taking place,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pieper is on a long road to recovery. None of her major organs were damaged in the crash, but she suffered multiple broken bones, including several fractures to her pelvis, Nathan Pieper told the Star News on Oct. 18.

“It could have turned out worse,” Nathan Pieper said.

Initially, a helicopter was called to the scene but that call was later canceled. It was a harrowing experience for Nathan Pieper.

“When someone’s unconscious, you don’t really know what’s going on,” Nathan Pieper said while recounting the accident.

Emily Pieper was hospitalized for four days after the crash and returned home on Oct. 17. The Piepers are now working with an attorney to help them navigate their new world of rehabilitation and medical bills.

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