View of traffic in Garrison on Hwy. 169 heading south on Sunday last weekend.

If you’ve driven near Mille Lacs lake recently, especially around the weekend, you’re not the only one that has noticed more and more traffic than usual, and the increased accidents reflect it. Whether Thursday is the new Friday going North, or Monday is the new Sunday going south, there doesn’t seem to be too many days when there is not quite a bit of traffic around Mille Lacs – especially on highway 169 down the west side of the lake.

Sundays in particular can be stop and go going south all the way down the west side of Mille Lacs. Congestion south of Garrison where the highway goes from two lanes to one lane is expected on most weekends, but lately that congestion can last all the way south of the casino. The stop light at the Casino has also been a point of congestion, but usually there is some relief in between there and Garrison.

In talking with Captain Jason LaSart of the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s office, he believes the reason for the uptick in traffic and ensuing accidents is that people have been cooped up because of the pandemic and are anxious to get out of the house. “They’re in a hurry to get to the cabin or campground or wherever they are staying for the weekend,” said LaSart.

Speed is the overriding factor in many accidents. Drivers that drive faster than the conditions, albeit weather or congestion, are cutting down the critical reaction time needed to avoid a collision, and that in and of itself, can many times lead to a chain reaction multi-vehicle accident.

“Drivers this summer need to be prudent and drive within their means and the conditions, in the winter, drivers naturally slow down; that’s what has to happen when there is increased traffic like this summer,” LaSart went on to say.

Traffic is up around the big lake

According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, traffic numbers are indeed up this summer. In looking at the Automatic Traffic Recorder (ATR) south of Onamia (site 204) the data for the month of May shows the monthly average daily traffic (MADT) for 2021 was up 12% over this time last year. Of course 2020 was a pandemic year, and unfortunately traffic numbers for 2019 were not available at press time.

Accidents are up too

Many accidents have been reported this summer. Some multiple vehicles, some are the usual two vehicles, but many are actually one vehicle accidents as well. Just in the last two weeks (June 30 - July 11), there have been eight accidents around the lake.

Accidents are noted below and initially reported by the Minnesota State Patrol:

On June 25, a Lexus sedan was traveling northbound on highway 169 passing 330th Street in Onamia Township when it went off the road to the left, crashing into a steel beam billboard. The driver was wearing a seat belt. No alcohol was involved.

On June 30, A Volkswagen Passat traveling westbound on Highway 27 veered to the right and then over-corrected and went off the road and rolled. Seat belt usage was unknown, but alcohol was involved.

On July 2, a Ford F-350 towing a fifth wheel, and a boat behind that, lost control and both trailers disconnected. The truck rolled and caught on fire. Both driver and passenger were able to exit the vehicle. Both were wearing seatbelts. These were all listed with non-life threatening injuries.

On July 6, a Ford F-150 was traveling the wrong way going southbound in the northbound lane of 169 and hit a Dodge Caravan that was traveling northbound. Alcohol was involved with the F-150 driver. Both vehicles were wearing seatbelts. This was also listed as non-life threatening injuries.

On July 3, a Ford Expedition was turning onto northbound highway 169 from highway 27 and collided with a northbound Ford Fusion and pushed it into oncoming traffic. The Fusion then hit a southbound Buick LaCrosse. All passengers were wearing seatbelts. No alcohol was involved.

On July 6, a Ford F-150 northbound on highway 169 rear ended a Ford Focus that was waiting to make a left turn onto Swing Away and pushed the Focus into oncoming traffic. The Focus then struck a southbound Lexus RX. Alcohol was involved with the driver of the F-150, and both occupants were not wearing seatbelts. The other two vehicles were wearing seatbelt belts.

There were also two motorcycles that both left the highway, on July 11. A Harley Davidson on Highway 47 tried to pass on the right but left the road to avoid a collision. No helmets were worn.

On July 11, a Honda Touring was traveling eastbound on Highway 27 when it lost control in the curves near Shady Road. The driver was not wearing a helmet, but the passenger was wearing one. Both of these were listed as non-life threatening injuries.

With traffic and accidents both up, travelers need to take extra care when driving during high traffic times. Here are some additional tips for keeping safe out on the roads from Captain LaSart:

Drive within your abilities, and be aware of changing traffic conditions.

Never put speed in front of your, or others safety.

Give yourself extra time, and leave earlier during times of high traffic.

Slow down, stay focused, and drive defensively; other lives are at stake.

Don’t out drive your ability.

Don’t exceed the speed limit.

And remember – most accidents are preventable.

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