City, county go head-to-head on mini-roundabout proposal

Graphic courtesy of Washington County Public Works
This rendering from the Federal Highway Administration shows how the mini-roundabout would fit at the Owens and Myrtle streets intersection. Tthis drawing is not the final design for the proposed mini-roundabout.

A Washington County Public Works proposal to install a mini-roundabout at the Myrtle and Owens streets intersection made it’s way to the Stillwater City Council Tuesday.

Don’t count Mayor Ken Harycki as a fan of the idea.

“I hate those damn roundabouts,” he said. “I’m worried it’ll look like the roundabout at (Minnesota) 5 in Lake Elmo. Why pay $100,000 for an intersection? Send it back to China, put it on the national debt and wait and see what happens to that traffic when the bridge goes through.”

WCPW Traffic Engineer Joe Gustafson said the Federal Highway Administration pays for 90 percent of the intersection design and construction costs up to $100,000. This project would cost the city $10,000 to $20,000, with the city responsible for 25 percent of other expenses if the project total is more than $100,000.

In exchange, the county and city agree to leave the roundabout in place for three years so research data can be collected on this particular traffic pattern, since it’s a new idea in the U.S. If the new layout was unsatisfactory the county and city could tear it out but would be on the hook for costs incurred from that. The Myrtle-Owens intersection is one of 10 sites in the U.S. being considered for a mini-roundabout federal test project.

This proposed Myrtle-Owens mini-roundabout is not one of the larger roundabouts seen on main highways. Gustafson said the proposed roundabout has a smaller diameter; no island landscaping or signs; is appropriate for a low-speed road; minimizes loss of parking; decreases traffic delays; improves traffic gaps with nearby intersections; offers better pedestrian visibility and wider sidewalks, and is less expensive than installing traffic signals because the county would not have to acquire land for the project.

Harycki suggested that a traffic experiment be done at the intersection for resident feedback on what they thought about the new layout after the experiment ran its course. The idea could proceed or be done depending on that feedback, the mayor added.

“We haven’t ruled out doing a temporary simulation and if we find a practical way to do it we will look at it,” Gustafson said.

“I think this is a good solution for that intersection,” said Ward 3 Councilman Jim Roush. “But we do have to remember that the effects of the St. Croix River Crossing project are yet to be seen and I think we should sit tight and look at the traffic when the Stillwater bridge closes next week.”

Resident Ann Gillen Triplett encouraged the council to “wait.”

“Wait and see what happens when the bridge closes down in September and remember that people don’t watch that well at that intersection,” she said. “I know I was almost hit the other day, how would a roundabout help with this? There has to be another solution.”

Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel and Ward 4 Councilman Michael Polehna said they have heard similar safety concerns, but noted that similar layouts in Lakeland and Lake Elmo have been well-received by the residents.

“We’ve looked at all the intersections and right now that intersection is not going to get better with time,” City Engineer Shawn Sanders said. “With the highway administration the county’s costs increase significantly. I was skeptical at first, too, but once I saw their layout I think it’s a worthwhile option to explore with the county.”

Going forward the county needs to ask the city’s permission to begin asking for bids on the project. Harycki asked that neighborhood meetings be held and public feedback collected.