The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 27, 2013

Roundabout delay for mall makes sense

Why it matters: Delaying MnDOT's plans for a roundabout near the River Hills Mall would reduce business disruption during construction.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Building one new roundabout in one of Mankato’s busiest commercial and retail trade areas would be chaotic enough, but a plan to build two at the same time just doesn’t seem to be prudent.

The Blue Earth County Board on Tuesday asked the Minnesota Department of Transportation to delay its plans to build a roundabout in 2014 at the intersection of Adams Street and Highway 22 out of concern for business and traffic disruption. The project would be happening about the same time as another roundabout planned for Highway 22 and Madison Avenue, another very busy intersection and in close proximity to the Adams/Highway 22 site.

We think it’s a sensible request. The board also urged MnDOT to take the extra time to construct a temporary road that would allow access to the River Hills Mall as well as the adjoining development that includes Gander Mountain, Hy-Vee, Applebee’s and several other retailers. MnDOT continues to plan for a series of roundabouts in 2014 along Madison Avenue from Highway 22 to Eagle Lake.

A year delay in the roundabout would also allow the county to complete expansion of old Highway 14 or Country Road 17 to four lanes for another half-mile to the east, thereby creating a better detour for traffic dealing with the roundabout construction.

Because Blue Earth County is funding about $700,000 of the new roundabout, MnDOT is considering its concerns like a partner. Should MnDOT go it alone and keep to its 2014 construction schedule, the county could pull its funding. That wouldn’t be good for anyone.

The Mankato City Council also appears willing to delay the project for the same reasons, according to Blue Earth County Engineer Al Forsberg.

MnDOT’s only dilemma appears to be an ability to move a 2015 project up into 2014. While there’s sure to be logistical problems with this, MnDOT and others seem to be able to move pretty fast on projects. For example, when the federal stimulus was authorized for shovel-ready projects a few years ago, MnDOT moved into coming up with projects pretty quickly.

Given the long list of things MnDOT points to that need work, including surface maintenance on area highways, we suspect there are a few road projects that can be moved up, and the public would probably be thrilled. A few interchange and expansion projects along Highway 14 come to mind.

In any event, MnDOT seems willing to “go back to the drawing board” to make this plan work. That’s a good example of the agency responding to the needs of the public and business.

Delaying the Adams/Highway 22 roundabout until 2015 makes sense. And providing incentives for contractors to get it done early would be money well spent to protect the integrity and business activity of Mankato’s largest commercial district.