The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 16, 2013

Update: MnDOT reconsidering roundabout plan

Disruptive option chosen, then reaction causes reconsideration

By Mark Fischenich
The Mankato Free Press

---- — MANKATO — Area transportation officials announced Monday that they'd settled on the "just get it over with" option for the construction of a pair of multi-lane roundabouts at two of Mankato's busiest intersections next summer. Hours later, they announced that negative feedback was prompting them to reconsider.

The option — which would fully close Madison Avenue and Adams Street just before they intersect with Highway 22 and would shut down the section of Highway 22 between Highway 14 and Bassett Drive — also was preferred in a survey of business owners last month who liked that strategy's capacity to get the project completed in fewer than four months.

Officially called Option 4 by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the "just get it over with" option would be the most disruptive to traffic flow at south-central Minnesota's two most crash-prone intersections and the two intersections that serve River Hills Mall and the bulk of the city's other major retailers. The disruption of shutting down the highway and intersections, however, would be offset by the fact that the 16-week construction schedule was about half as long as Option 2 and 10 weeks faster than Option 3, along with being the least expensive and safest for traffic and work crews.

But when word got out through the media and through direct emails from MnDOT to business owners in Mankato's retail hub, a number of calls came in.

"Some of them who'd even voted for that (option) were reconsidering it," said MnDOT spokeswoman Rebecca Arndt. "So we're going to put it on pause and listen to them."

A time hasn't been set yet, but a meeting will be scheduled to take further input and hear concerns from business owners about the Option 4 construction plans. The meeting, and a final decision, will need to come soon, however.

"We want to keep it on track for 2014," Arndt said.

Under MnDOT's preliminary schedule, construction would start in mid-May.

If Option 4 is ultimately used and the construction area is completely closed to traffic, the project can be completed by the end of August because crews can focus on building both roundabouts simultaneously. That approach also avoids the safety concerns that come with construction being done adjacent to flowing traffic.

"MnDOT, the City of Mankato, Blue Earth County as well as the majority of voting businesses (70 percent) believe that the benefits provided by the full closure option outweigh the impacts to road users and are greater than those provided by the other construction options," stated Monday's initial announcement from Susan Youngs, a communication consultant for the project.

Option 2 would restrict lanes but keep north-south traffic flowing on Highway 22 during construction. Adams and Madison, under Option 2, would need to be closed on one side of the intersection or the other for eight or nine weeks each, alternating from one to the other. That approach would add 30 percent to the estimated cost of the project and extend construction to 30 weeks, which would mean the traffic snarls would continue into early December in the region's top retail shopping destination.

Option 3 would construct one roundabout at a time — allowing the Adams and Madison intersections to be alternately closed with detoured traffic using the other. Option 3 would add 15 percent to the cost and take 26 weeks to complete — mid-May to early November — but detours would be relatively short for 14 of those weeks.

Option 1, which was rejected by MnDOT before public input was sought, would have allowed all traffic movements throughout the construction process, albeit on restricted lanes and shoulders. That option would have been most dangerous and most expensive, along with forcing the project to continue into the 2015 construction season.

Option 4, along with being safer, cheaper and shorter, would result in higher construction quality, according to MnDOT. In addition, the detours would be consistent throughout the project rather than changing repeatedly as would occur in Options 2 and 3.

The quicker construction schedule would also mean most of the work would be done when schools and colleges are out of session and would be completed by the start of the holiday shopping season. Each roundabout will cost about $2.6 million.