NORTH MANKATO — Another local government meeting, another discussion about the merits of a roundabout.
Beginning this fall and during the next couple of years, there will be eight or more roundabouts open to traffic in and just outside Mankato and North Mankato.
At Monday night’s North Mankato City Council meeting, MnDOT Engineer Scott Thompson tried to convince the council it should go along with a roundabout at an intersection on one end of the Lookout Drive overpass where it connects to Highway 14.
The proposed roundabout would be on the north end of the Lookout overpass, where westbound 14 traffic comes up to Lookout Drive and where traffic off of Lookout Drive takes the ramp down to go onto westbound 14.
Thompson said a roundabout is superior to traffic signals at the site for vehicle and pedestrian safety and to limit traffic delays. And while roundabouts generally cost considerably more than traffic lights, in this case the city would make out better financially by having a roundabout.
That’s because most of the costs of a roundabout are in buying more right-of-way and in putting down new pavement or concrete. But most all of the right-of-way needed is already in place and the Lookout Drive overpass surface is currently deteriorated and will need to be replaced no matter which option is picked.
If the city agrees to go in on the roundabout, MnDOT would cover half the cost of the roughly $1.5 million project. If the city goes with traffic signals, MnDOT would pay for half of the lights, but the city would pay for most all of the new paving, which would be more than $1 million.
Thompson asked the council to decide in the next six months or so if they were on board with a roundabout so planning could begin. It would likely be 2014 or 2015 before the project would be done.
Thompson said the roundabout would be much larger than those in Hutchinson and New Prague so it could more easily handle semi-truck traffic.
Council members gave no clear indication of which way they leaned, although Councilman Bill Schindle had concerns about pedestrian safety on a roundabout, which would be near Dakota Meadows Middle School. He said drivers will all be looking to their left for a spot to enter the roundabout and may not see kids crossing to the right of them.
But Thompson said pedestrians crossings on roundabouts don’t have to go across as many lanes of traffic at any one time because of median safe-spots and he said drivers turning right on a red light at an signal light intersection also may be looking only at traffic to their left while someone is walking through the crosswalk to their right.
The council will hold a special roundabout meeting sometime later this year. Council members said that with a few new roundabouts opening soon in the area, they’ll be able to get a better feel for how well they work.