After looking at several options for a three-mile stretch of Highway 29 that extends from Alexandria's Third Avenue to County Road 73, just beyond Lakes L'Homme Dieu and Geneva, roundabouts appear to be the preferred choice.
Mike Bittner from KLJ, a consulting firm hired by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, presented information to county and city officials at a work session during Tuesday's regular Douglas County Board meeting.
Third and 29
The first roundabout - a multi-lane roundabout - would go at the intersection of Third Avenue and Highway 29, near Elden's Fresh Foods. Installing a roundabout at this intersection, Bittner said, would reduce delays 50 percent, reduce the severity of crashes, and provide better access management points to businesses in the area.
On average, there have been 14 crashes per year, which is above the state average. No fatalities have been reported with roundabouts, Bittner said, although more rear-end crashes could occur.
In addition, Bittner said this option had 52 percent public support. Earlier this year, MnDOT took public comments about the project after an open house in February showcased the details and options for the project. Details are also available on the project website.The public sent its comments to Bittner via email, regular mail and MnDOT's website.
He also said 32 percent of the people who commented said to do nothing at this particular intersection.
Third to Nokomis
The next stretch of road that would include a roundabout is from the intersection of 3rd Avenue and Nokomis to where Nokomis splits off with County Road 42 NE, which Bittner said is tight and not an optimal corridor to design. The roundabout would be located at the intersection of Lakeview Avenue.
In addition, this stretch of road, which would be turned into four lanes of traffic, would also include raised medians and sidewalks on both sides.
Bittner said there are 69 accesses per mile on this stretch of road, which is five times MnDOT standards, and the crash statistics are above the statewide average at 21 crashes per year.
Safety and ADA non-compliance are also issues on this stretch of road.
With the reconstruction of the road and the added roundabout, Bittner said, traffic would operate more efficiently, it would be safer for pedestrians and bicyclists and there would be more effective access management for businesses and residents.
Nokomis and 29
The intersection where Nokomis Street splits from Highway 29 is where the third roundabout would be constructed. Bittner said this intersection is a critical crash area, which is not normal, and speed differentials - 30- and 60-mile an hour zones in the same area - were partially to blame.
A continuous roundabout with bypass lanes would reduce crashes and produce a more natural traffic calming pattern through the speed reduction area, he said. This option received 84 percent public support.
Although no other roundabouts were talked about for the project, there would be some reconstruction and configuration from the Nokomis Street intersection all the way to County Road 73. A shared use path, turn lanes at key locations, pedestrian crossing amenities and widening to four lanes with median and turn lanes are being looked at for this stretch of road.
Improvements to this segment, including widening the road and adding a shared use path, were publicly supported by nearly 95 percent.
"This is just the first phase," Bittner told city and county officials. "A lot of refining still needs to be done."
Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson said she loved the project and it is definitely needed, but the biggest question is, "Who pays?"
Douglas County Board Chairman Charlie Meyer agreed, saying, "It's all about the numbers."
MnDOT representatives who were also present at the meeting said funding has yet to be determined and he hopes the state, county and city can sit down together and figure it out. One MnDOT spokesperson said the state "won't ramrod something through" and that it is going to take a lot of effort, planning and coming together of all involved parties.
No costs have been set in stone, but the full project was roughly estimated at around $12 million in today's dollars, said Bittner. A timetable hasn't been carved out, either, but the actual work on the project more than likely wouldn't get started for at least six to eight more years.