Isanti council gets straight to the point regarding roundabouts

This satellite image, taken prior to the construction of Kwik Trip, shows where the proposed mini roundabouts would be constructed in order to reduce the traffic congestion along Heritage Boulevard in Isanti if all parties (the city, county and MnDOT) come to an agreement. The other option considered is a stoplight at the intersection where the mini roundabout on the left side of this map is shown.

There probably aren’t many people who love roundabouts, but there are some that simply hate them – including Isanti Mayor Jeff Johnson and Council Member Steve Lundeen. The two made their position regarding roundabouts clear at the Oct. 6 Isanti City Council meeting when presented with traffic control options for the intersections of East Dual Boulevard Northeast and Credit Union Drive with Heritage Boulevard (Isanti County State Aid Highway 5).

During high traffic times, commuters state it is nearly impossible to enter Heritage Boulevard from either of those side streets, which is why a traffic control study was commissioned jointly by Isanti County and the City of Isanti.

Four options discussed

The study provided four options for alleviating traffic, two which included traffic signals and two which included roundabouts. However, due to Minnco Credit Union’s unwillingness to sell land to the west of the current bank building to create a four-way intersection, only two options are viable at this time.

The first option would be to place a traffic signal at Heritage Boulevard and East Dual Boulevard Northeast, the option liked by Johnson and Lundeen. The second option is to install mini roundabouts at the intersections of East Dual Boulevard Northeast and Credit Union Drive with Heritage Boulevard, which was favored by council members James Gordon, Paul Bergley, and Dan Collison.

When presenting the options, City Engineer Jason Cook informed the council that a traffic signal at Heritage Boulevard and East Dual Boulevard would be the least costly option. “However, it won’t really address Credit Union Drive,” he added, explaining that intersection would have to be addressed within the next 20 to 30 years with future expected traffic increases.

Due to the proximity of Credit Union Drive to East Dual Boulevard Northeast and Minnesota Highway 65, a traffic signal would not be allowed at Credit Union Drive now or in the future, Cook told the council. Therefore, the traffic signal would only alleviate the problem for 20 to 30 years before another solution would have to be decided, he said.

“I personally like number one here, and then in that 20-year fix, possibly at that point might be able to do something with Credit Union and get that a four-way stop,” Lundeen said. “I think that is going to be the most feasible option. I don’t want to see roundabouts, I don’t.”

Collison argued for roundabouts, noting it would keep traffic flowing and not stop it at either intersection, as well as alleviate future traffic concerns. There was brief discussion about whether roundabouts would hinder semi-tractor trailer traffic and emergency vehicles, but council members were assured by Cook and Gordon this would not occur.  

“Every time I drive up to one of them things, I’m like, blech,” Johnson said. “I like the first option, that we go three-legged stoplight with potential, hopefully moving into a direction with the credit union there that we can blow that fourth leg in in 10 to 20 years down the line.”

Placing mini roundabouts at both intersections alleviates the traffic issues today and for the foreseeable future, according to Cook. “It actually does create the highest level of service for vehicle movement, not stacking, and it fixes both intersections just now where that 20- to 30-year plus range is still met, the level of service is still good at Credit Union and East Dual,” he said. “So, it’s essentially a fix that doesn’t need to get looked at again in 20 to 30 years; we don’t need to re-route that road ever to make this one function at its optimum functionality for the forecasted range.”

He noted that the current cost to install the two roundabouts is approximately $200,000 to $300,000 more than the single traffic signal option. However, none of the quotes for projects in the study include engineering, administration, or land acquisition costs, which will be 20% to 30% more than the cost estimates in the report.

Lundeen stated the roundabouts would not ease traffic coming out of West Dual Boulevard Northeast or the strip mall located across from East Dual Boulevard Northeast. Collison argued that it would ease traffic by slowing it down, noting cars cannot travel 45 miles per hour through a roundabout.

Collison noted the stacking of traffic backing up east to Minnesota 65 and west on Heritage Boulevard with the traffic signal option. Lundeen argued that timing the traffic signal with the one on 65 should solve that issue.

“I believe, by the report and by the recommendations from an engineering standpoint that the double roundabout is standing out as the cost-benefit ultimate solution from an engineering standpoint,” Cook concluded. 

Additional discussion took place regarding pedestrian traffic, with Johnson noting that a traffic signal would stop traffic for them to cross the street safely. Others argued the mini roundabouts would allow pedestrians to see traffic over the center of the roundabout and cross walks could be installed.

Bergley asked Cook’s opinion about whether a traffic signal or roundabout would be better for pedestrians.

“Specifically for pedestrians, to have a controlled stop for them to cross is going to be the easiest for them to understand when to go when the vehicles aren’t going to be going,” Cook said, explaining the roundabout acts as an island and there would only be a single lane of traffic to cross. “So, in this situation all they have to do is get across a 14-foot wide lane, and then they can get across the next one, and at that same time, the vehicles are more or less supposed to maneuver their vehicle to make that roundabout where they have to slow down, so now they’re coming at you with fairly slow speed.”

“It’s like playing Frogger, though,” Johnson said. “You’re literally trying to cross that. OK, now the car isn’t going 30 anymore, it’s going 15, but it’s still going to hurt.”

At this time, it is unclear where funding for any project will come from, but Cook stated there were options for the city and county to apply for funding. 

Ultimately, the council’s recommendation was 3-2 in favor of roundabouts versus a traffic signal. Their recommendation will be forwarded to the Isanti County Board of Commissioners, which will address the issue at a future county board meeting.

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