Some residents not sold on roundabout, urged ‘no’ vote
Some residents haven’t bought into the idea that roundabouts could help make Diffley Road safer.
Dakota County has been partnering with the city of Eagan and School District 196 to plan for public safety improvements along Diffley Road near the Northview Elementary, Dakota Hills Middle and Eagan High School campuses.
The design concept would reconstruct Diffley Road from four lanes to two between Lexington Avenue and Braddock Trail, which would allow for lowering the speed limit.
Plans also show a new access road between the intersection at Daniel Drive and the schools, along with modifications to the school drop-off zone and entrances.
The proposed roundabouts at Daniel Drive and at Braddock Trail drew the most ire during both the recent Eagan City Council and Dakota County Board of Commissioners meetings. District 196 is scheduled to take up the issue during its July 27 meeting.
Eagan Public Works Director Russ Matthys noted that this was not a final design.
What the City Council approved Tuesday was to authorize a joint powers effort to finance the survey, design and right of way work.
Although a few residents urged the city to vote “no,” the council voted “yes” to joining the joint powers agreement.
Council members said they wanted to be part of the process to advocate for pedestrian safety measures.
Diffley Road is Dakota County property, Mayor Mike Maguire said. The JPA allows the city to participate in the process.
Residents were concerned pedestrians wouldn’t know how to navigate through a roundabout and more drivers would fail to yield than at a traditional stoplight.
Several residents said they didn’t feel they were being heard.
“The project does not incorporate a safe route for pedestrians and there’s concerns that it’s aimed to further discourage students from walking and biking to school,” Eagan’s Holly Jenkins said at the County Board meeting last week.
She urged pedestrian safety take precedence over traffic flow.
Eagan’s Theresa Eisele said the roundabouts could be another accident waiting to happen.
Some residents sought a more controlled intersection for pedestrians.
Residents said they’ve urged changes be made to the area for more than a decade.
The efforts to make changes were amplified following the death of Patric Vitek, 13, of Eagan, who was hit by a vehicle and died while riding his bike to school while crossing Diffley Road in 2019.
County Commissioner Joe Akins noted that there was considerable agreement on other components of the plan during the meeting last week.
He said at traditional intersections, vehicles are traveling at about 35 mph. Within a roundabout, it’s more like 15 to 22 mph.
Atkins said the accident severity rate is considerably greater when being struck by a motorist traveling at 35 mph.
Matthys said plans include speed limit warning signs, but residents were concerned about enforcement.
Matthys said addressing the traffic flow through school district property directly impacts the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists.
He said officials have listened to every suggestions and will continue to, but said not every suggestion is viable and finding consensus is challenging.
A letter from Brown County in Wisconsin on the Dakota County website details a similar project.
Brown County constructed roundabouts near three schools located along a county highway in the Green Bay suburb of Howard about 20 years ago.
The county found that vehicles were traveling at 20 mph or less before reaching the crosswalks throughout the day. As of 2020, there have been no known pedestrian crashes along that section of road in Brown County even though traffic volumes have nearly tripled.
The project led to the construction of additional roundabouts near schools in the county.
Atkins noted that the situation in Brown County also includes school crossing guards, markings and lighting, which are key items he expects in the final Diffley Road design.
“There are different types of traffic control measures and improvements that try to draw attention to drivers that there are pedestrians in the area,” Matthys said.
By staying in the JPA, the city could advocate for them.
Matthys said the several elements of the plan work together to meet the goals.
The key project objectives are to increase pedestrian safety and connections, increase awareness of the school area, provide safe facilities, lower vehicle speeds, reduce pedestrian and vehicle conflict points, and reduce congestion and improve circulation.
The estimated cost of the project is $4.6 million, which is the amount requested in the state bonding bill.
No financing was provided by the Minnesota Legislature during either the regular session or special session. Gov. Tim Walz called lawmakers into a special session beginning Monday.
The city expects to receive an update on the status of the consultant’s design concept and the funding request next month.
Matthys noted that the current concept may not be viable, either. He said it’s possible that a roundabout couldn’t actually fit in the intersection.
“We could realize the implementation could be more difficult or costly,” he said.
Improvements are recommended to be constructed in 2021.