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Hwy. 34 project in Akeley moving forward

This graphic shows the wider section of Hwy.34 from Hulet to the corner of Hwy. 64 in Akeley. Narrowing the road by incorporating sidewalks and a green space should help slow traffic in the area. 1 / 2
This is the proposed parking plan for the narrow section of Akeley on the two blocks of Hwy. 34 from Hillside to Hulet. (Graphics courtesy MnDOT)2 / 2

Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Hwy. 64 project coordinator Laura Hadrava and traffic engineer Michelle Rognerud from Bemidji updated the Akeley council on the Hwy. 34 project slated for 2021 at the Sept. 12 council meeting.

While a stoplight was discussed at an earlier small group meeting about the project, that has been ruled out by MnDOT.

"It does not warrant a signal," Hadrava said. "We are looking at two alternatives. One is the roundabout. The other is leaving the intersection as it is, trying to do what we can to modify it. But the way the geometrics are with businesses on both corners, it is somewhat limited."

Hadrava said the pros of a roundabout are that it slows speeds down and improves traffic flow. "They are very efficient," she said.

When asked if trucks and semis would be able to negotiate the roundabout, she said yes, they would be able to go over it. She pointed out this type of roundabout has been installed on a trunk highway in St. James.

She said while the roundabout planned for Park Rapids will be a full-size standard roundabout, this would be a smaller version with a shorter center aisle.

"We don't have traffic safety issues at that intersection," she said. "We are trying to slow traffic down. It sounds like there is some opposition to a roundabout in the community. How strong that is I don't know."

"I've only heard one person say the roundabout might be a good idea," Riggs said. "Most people don't want it."

"I think a roundabout is the way to go," audience member Marv Vredenburg said. "Most people know how to use a roundabout. It's maybe the locals that don't know how to use a roundabout. It's the safest alternative."

"Most people don't like change," Hadrava replied.

Riggs said he hopes those working on the project will do the best they can not to impose on the businesses on that corner. "They are the most viable businesses in town," he added.

Another question from the audience was how a vehicle pulling an ice house or boat would navigate the roundabout. Hadrava said it is a gradual mountable island.

Mayor Brian Hitchcock asked how snow plowing would work with a roundabout.

Hadrava said that would have to be handled through a maintenance agreement between the city and MnDOT.

Riggs expressed safety concerns about a roundabout. "Being a former trucking company owner and truck driver myself, I understand how your roundabout is designed to work, but it's inherently dangerous when a large vehicle comes to make a left turn and oncoming traffic thinks it's going to do the roundabout like they're going to do the roundabout and instead it makes a left turn."

Police Chief Jimmy Hansen asked how a wide load, such as a mobile home, entering the roundabout would affect safety.

Hadrava said most people coming from larger cities would have encountered roundabouts and know how to use them.

"It depends on what your priorities are as to what option you want to go with," Hadrava said. "Are you more worried about accommodating trucks and traffic or pedestrians and keeping speeds down?"

"According to the information MnDOT supplied to us, narrowing the street is going to slow the traffic all on its own," Riggs said.

Hansen asked if there were enhancements MnDOT could make to what is there now.

"We need to go back and evaluate these options," Hadrava said

Hadrava also shared graphics of what the new street might look like once work is complete.

The council approved those plans as presented.