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Column: Roundabout story interesting to follow

 As if the idea of a roundabout intersection on Highway 71 isn’t confusing enough for some folks to grasp I added to that confusion in Saturday’s Enterprise by mistakenly referring to U.S. Highway 71 as a state highway.  The error that sent some people searching for a map was quickly corrected in our online version but the print edition unfortunately remains in black and white.  To further the problem we cut off part of the story as it continued from the front page to page 5. This was a layout and copy editing error that shouldn’t happen, but unfortunately does from time to time, in the newspaper business.  

The story was about the state and county considering a roundabout intersection at U.S. Highway 71 and County State Aid Highway 15 on the south side of Park Rapids. I reported on information provided by Minnesota Department of Transportation officials at the Jan. 12 city council meeting.  Engineers are studying traffic control plans to improve safety at the intersection.  Here’s what was inadvertently cut from the original story in the print edition:   The three primary traffic control devices considered for installation include a two-way stop (existing) with turn lane added, traffic signal system and a roundabout.  

A roundabout would require full intersection reconstruction, and the higher initial construction cost may be a consideration. A small portion of right of way acquisition is expected.  “Overall, the roundabout is expected to provide the greatest intersection safety performance and most efficient traffic operations with least motorist delay during all time periods of the day,” the engineering report stated.  The discussion will continue and MNDOT plans to hold an open public meeting tentatively scheduled for the first week of February.  There’s still a lot to talk about as state, county and city officials continue to study the issue.

Based on comments and information at last week’s council meeting MNDOT is leaning toward the idea of a roundabout.  Once we know when the public input meeting is set we’ll certainly pass that information on to our readers.   Some of the biggest concerns include initial confusion on how exactly to get through a roundabout, and how can this intersection so foreign to many handle the trucks, snow plows, and heavy tourist traffic into Park Rapids on Highway 71 in the summer?  The roundabout concept is to slow traffic and improve safety at the intersection. Some are concerned roundabouts increase traffic accidents, albeit at a slower speed.

 Judging by the reaction, comments and testimonials regarding roundabouts when we posted the story on our website and Facebook page people are very interested.  “Roundabouts are horrible in the rural farming community. They may work fine in larger cities, but not anywhere else. Who ever thinks they are good needs to drive a truck or tractor in the mess they create,” one person commented.  Others support the concept.  “Roundabouts are change...maybe that's the problem. They will slow down traffic and make it safer,” another person commented.   

Stay tuned, this will be an interesting story to follow.