Russian rendezvous reveals roundabout revelationFifteen latitudinal degrees and more than 5,000 miles separate Alexandria from the Republic of Mariy El in Russia. Douglas County Engineer and Public Works Director Dave Robley hopped off a lime green airplane and hit the pavement in the distant land with Anoka County engineer Doug Fischer and Sue Groth from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to explore one thing the two communities have in common – highways.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
Fifteen latitudinal degrees and more than 5,000 miles separate Alexandria from the Republic of Mariy El in Russia.
Douglas County Engineer and Public Works Director Dave Robley hopped off a lime green airplane and hit the pavement in the distant land with Anoka County engineer Doug Fischer and Sue Groth from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to explore one thing the two communities have in common – highways.
Minnesota has been participating in a Federal Highway Administration sponsored exchange program since 2004 that pairs municipalities in the state with similar societies in Russia. The objective is to learn from one another how like climates handle the challenges of roadways in other parts of the world.
The republic of Mariy El is about a quarter the size of Minnesota and has a population of 800,000. The republic is broken up into 14 districts. The capital, Yoshkar Ola, is a 14-hour train ride from Moscow. Robley said the trek felt like they were riding into Siberia, but had only traveled 400 miles east into the country.
Robley observed many similarities not only in the countryside but in the roadways as well.
“In a lot of ways they were ahead of us,” Robley said. “In other ways, they were behind.”
In comparison, Minnesota roads have much more signage, Robley said. He added that oftentimes the Russian two-lane roads become three-lane roads. When a vehicle wants to pass, it plows down the middle of the road while the other vehicles straddle the white lines on the sides.
He saw a lot more communication between drivers and fewer distractions like cell phones.
“They drive like crazy, but when they’re driving, they’re driving,” Robley said.
Many of the intersections are uncontrolled. One of the only places where stop signs are posted is near railroad crossings. Four-way stops are replaced with roundabouts.
Robley said roundabouts are actually safer than four-way stops because they decrease the number of contact points from 32 to eight. Roundabouts slow drivers down but don’t force them to stop when there isn’t oncoming traffic. Because the direction of travel is parallel, the collisions are less severe.
Russian road signs have more symbols whereas American signs are heavy on text. Caution signs are red and white rather than yellow; stop signs are black and white. Light signals are the same red, yellow, green configuration.
Robley noted the road structure is similar to that in the U.S., a lot of asphalt and cobblestone.
“They install a lot of guard rail,” Robley said, noting one difference. He said traffic has increased in Russia since the dissolution of communism but public transportation is still widely used. People will walk miles to bus stops at the edge of their towns. Electric buses are still popular in the city.
Surprisingly, Robley said, 27 percent of accidents in Mariy El involve bicycles.
Robley, Fischer and Groth spent three days in August exchanging information through the aid of an interpreter. The trip was originally scheduled for 2011 but postponed due to the state shutdown.
“It’s really eye opening,” Robley said. “It was an incredible opportunity, a trip I didn’t want to pass up.”