Photo by Andy Rogers

Residents got a look at a preferred solution from engineers that could make Diffley Road safer between Lexington Avenue and Braddock Trail in Eagan.

Proposed safety improvements include lane reduction, roundabouts

One way officials believe they can make Diffley Road in Eagan safer is to put it on a “diet.”

During a public safety meeting Feb. 27 at the Eagan Community Center, officials shared possible solutions to reducing congestion and improving safety along Diffley Road between Lexington Avenue and Braddock Trail in Eagan.

The stretch of road includes North Trail Elementary, Dakota Hills Middle School and Eagan High School, along with a commercial district, Lexington-Diffley athletic field complex and several housing developments.

The issue of pedestrian safety became more urgent after Patrick Vitek, 13, of Eagan, died after colliding with a car in November when he riding his bike across Diffley Road to school.

The crux of their solution involves taking Diffley Road down to one lane in each direction between Lexington Avenue and Braddock Trail, which is commonly called a “road diet.” The plan also suggested constructing roundabouts and Daniel Drive and Braddock Trail.

Another way to reduce congestion would include constructing an additional roadway connecting Eagan High School and Dakota Hills Middle School at the Daniel Drive intersection.

“This checks all the boxes for us,” said Chris Chromy, principal transportation engineer with Bolton & Menk, a civil engineering firm. “It’s safer and it naturally lowers speeds.”

By doing so, officials would be able to widen the median along Diffley Road to create a refuge for pedestrians. It would also make the road safe enough to consider constructing a crosswalk at the Diffley Marketplace intersection.

“Crossing a lane in one in one direction is much safer than crossing multiple lanes in two directions,” Chromy said.

During prior open houses, residents expressed concerns that roundabouts were confusing to navigate for both pedestrians and drivers, but officials said roundabouts are dramatically safer and relieve congestion.

“There are substantially fewer pedestrian- and vehicle-related crashes at roundabouts,” Chromy said. “And the severity is dramatically less.”

While there are no perfect intersections, Chromy said, roundabouts are designed to accommodate vehicles at about 15 to 20 miles per hour and there’s a need to slow down when approaching the intersection.

Roundabouts also reduce the number of conflict points at pedestrian crossings.

Chromy said there are eight conflict points for pedestrians when crossing the road at a roundabout. At a stoplight, there are 32.

Reducing the road to one lane may be able to convince the Minnesota Department of Transportation to permanently lower the speed limit.

Currently the area has a school speed zone, which was enacted in January. The limit is 30 mph before and after school as well as when students are present. There are currently crossing guards helping ensure pedestrian safety and dynamic speed signs were installed to alert drivers.

Otherwise the speed limit is 45 mph, but there’s high interest in reducing the speed permanently. MnDOT generally sets the speed limit based on the speed traffic naturally travels.

Reducing the number of lanes and installing roundabouts would naturally calm traffic, Chromy said.

Chromy also said they’re working on changes to the school parking lots to make them more efficient.

Constructing an additional entrance connecting to Daniel Drive would pull a considerable amount of congestion off Diffley Road.

Approximately 490 students attend Northview Elementary and at the middle and high school, there are 3,210 students. Currently there are as many as 350 drop-offs daily within a 20-minute window.

The roadway is considerably congested around 7:30 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. during school days.

Nothing is official at this point. The purpose of the public safety meeting was to elicit feedback from residents.

Chromy said the proposals will be fined tuned and taken back to officials.

The city of Eagan, Dakota County and School District 196 would all need to approve any changes to the roads and parking lots.

The proposal came from a project group consisting of members of the county, city of Eagan, police department, school principals and school transportation department.

The entities would need to secure funding for the likely several million dollar project.

Chromy said it’s possible construction could begin in 2021.

He said there’s a chance they could make alterations to the parking lot entrance and drop off enhancements as early as next school year as well as improve the lighting along Diffley Road in 2020.

One possible solution was constructing a pedestrian tunnel under Diffley Road between Daniel Drive and Braddock Trail, but Chromy said “it doesn’t check all the boxes.”

There is limited space for a tunnel. Data showed that pedestrians may not use the tunnel enough to make it worth it or to reduce congestion.

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