Ready or not, here come the roundabouts

Double-roundabout project at 61/97 intersection among many in the works


Clint Riese
News Editor

The roundabout in downtown Forest Lake has existed for three years. While its design will be simplified next month to reduce fender-benders, long-term plans are proceeding for a pair of roundabouts 1.4 miles south, where Highway 61 hits Highway 97.

The Forest Lake City Council, at its two most recent workshops, has studied a proposal for that complicated intersection near Forest Lake High School. In presenting an overview June 4, officials from the Minnesota Department of Transportation sold the project as a way to improve safety, access and mobility in an area that can see more than 20,000 vehicles per day.

Problems are inherent there because of the dual-intersection setup. Trunk Highway 97 runs east and west in front of the high school where it meets the north-south state Highway 61. However, Highway 97 does not continue directly through that intersection, but nearly 2,000 feet to the south.

“A highway that makes a jog as it does offers some uniqueness to it,” MnDOT East Area Manager Adam Josephson said.

The area can be congested and also dangerous. A MnDOT study found 60 reported crashes over a three-year period, with over one-third resulting in injuries. Sixty percent of the crashes took place at the south intersection. Concerns relating to pedestrian and school bus traffic exist, as well, due to the proximity to the school.

While problematic, the intersections have not risen to the top of MnDOT’s priority list, so the state agency twice in recent years sought special safety funds from the federal government. The bid under the Surface Transportation Program was denied in 2009 but accepted in 2011, netting a commitment of $6 million. The funds include a 20 percent state or local match and will be available in 2016.

MnDOT is calling for roundabouts at both intersections, a pedestrian bridge over the north roundabout and a school access road designed to keep buses from backing up onto the highways. The roundabouts would have one circular lane and two entry points from each direction; one to go into the circle and one right-turn-only lane. The bridge would be a multi-million-dollar project itself due to its length and the slope required to meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The estimated cost presented in June for the entire project is $8.7 million. MnDOT sought an extra $2 million for the project through the state’s Corridor Investment Management Strategy program, but that application was recently denied.

Assuming the $8.7 million cost is unchanged, the city is estimated to be responsible for about $800,000 for matching costs and the linking of local roadways. This number could be reduced through a MnDOT cost exemption.

Josephson said a non-funding detail to be hammered out is how construction will flow around the school-year schedule.

Municipal consent is not required, but Josephson stressed that the city and school district will need to be cooperative partners in the planning process. City Administrator Aaron Parrish said the council both gave affirmation and raised concerns at the June workshop.

More coming

Several other roundabouts are in the works locally, and one is much further along. Also on Highway 61, a single-lane roundabout will open in September at 170th Street North in Hugo. The $1.4 million project, which began June 10, came about due to several right-angle crashes resulting in an average of five people being injured per year.

Planning is underway for Anoka County to construct a roundabout at Broadway Avenue Northeast and Kettle River Boulevard Northeast (County Road 62) in Columbus. A steady history of right-angle crashes led to federal funding from the Highway Safety Improvement Program. A roundabout is preferred over a signalized intersection because it will take less right of way and eliminate alignment issues a signalized intersection would present. Public informational meetings are planned for this fall and next spring.

Washington County recently submitted potential road projects to MnDOT for funding in 2015 and a roundabout in Scandia is on the wish list. The single-lane roundabout would be at Manning Trail North (County State Aid Highway 15) and Highway 97. Funding would be through the Metro Municipal Agreement Program.