Archived Story

Editorial: What about a roundabout for U.S. 69 junction?

Published 9:55am Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It’s too bad that a roundabout wasn’t given greater consideration for the junction of U.S. Highway 69 and Minnesota Highway 13 on the west side of Albert Lea.

Various levels of government in this country often push the automotive industry to produce more fuel-efficient automobiles. Standards go up, and private enterprise responds. These same levels of government bear an indifference to producing more fuel-efficient roads. They act like what’s good for the goose is not good for themselves.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation in July will begin work on resurfacing Highway 69 from the corner all the way to the Iowa border. The route most dearly needs a new surface, and a better road is good for Albert Lea commerce. We are grateful this project didn’t get bumped down the project list another few years.

That said, MnDOT is installing three roundabouts on U.S. Highway 169 in Blue Earth this summer. It has several in Mankato already and another on the way. It installed one on Highway 63 in Olmsted County and is looking at installing them near Eyota and Wanamingo. But MnDOT gave little consideration to a roundabout at the terminus for Highway 69 in Albert Lea. And some local leaders favor a roundabout there. Plus, there is plenty of space.

It’s puzzling. So we inquired.

A MnDOT official said engineers looked at costs, the traffic counts and severity of crashes and decided taking out the existing four-way intersection with right-turn ramps wasn’t worth the price tag for the low traffic and few crashes that junction sees.

However, we question the accuracy of the statistics. MnDOT said in the past 10 years, there had been 28 crashes, 18 were property damage and none were serious injury or fatal.

Right away, we remembered the fate of Janelle Reule, who perished March 29, 2007, when the driver of a grain hauler ran a red light and struck her Chevy Malibu. If MnDOT fails to list the biggest crash that occurred there, how can we be sure it has the number correct on the other ones?

We let MnDOT know, and now that has been added to the database.

Still, if our road doesn’t garner enough traffic, then what about fuel-efficiency? Roundabouts don’t require a full stop — hence, saving fuel — and are considered safer than stoplights on several levels. (See March 27 editorial.) Reule would be alive today if there had been a roundabout at that junction. Drivers cannot just blaze right through roundabouts; they have a median in the middle.

The MnDOT official said fuel efficiency is not considered when building roads. It’s just a side benefit if the roads come out more efficient.

Like we said, it’s too bad. One would imagine in a forward-thinking state like Minnesota that the Department of Transportation would care about the fuel efficiency of the roadways, even on medium-to-low-traffic intersections.

And even if MnDOT ultimately ruled against a roundabout, it sure would have been good to air the issue before the community, to see what people think. Perhaps, it still can.

The plan does call for installing a new stoplight with protected left turns and making crosswalks comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. We nevertheless commend those changes.