Northfield residents were given an overview of the planned roundabout project at the intersection of Jefferson Parkway and Highway 246 during an open house Wednesday at City Hall.

Possible project designs were shown on boards. Residents placed stickers on their favorite options. A brief project overview and question-and-answer session was led by Northfield City Engineer David Bennett.

The first option includes two underpasses, one on the west side connecting the school campus, the other on the south side connecting the Mill Towns Trail, and a $2.97 million price tag. The second alternative would cost $3.32 million and include four underpasses. The third, $3.36 million option includes underpasses to the center of the roundabout, and the fourth alternative, featuring only at-grade crossings, is $1.9 million.

The first option is expected to cost a $200,000 home an additional $15 a year in taxes for 10 years. The second alternative will cost a $200,000 home $20 a year in taxes, the third option would cost a $200,000 home $21 in taxes, and the fourth alternative would have no tax impact.

Peak operational hour issues are currently seen as causing lengthy backups and delays at the intersection, something the city hopes to alleviate by installing the roundabout.

Roundabouts remove the potential for side-impact crashes, which are among the most lethal, and pedestrian-involved crashes because there is a shorter crossing distance for pedestrians, and pedestrians and motorists only need to look to the left before entering. The city also sees environmental benefits in installing roundabouts because of a projected decrease in vehicle stops.

At one point during the presentation, an audience member tcommented hat the vast majority of traffic in the area of Highway 246 and Jefferson Parkway are motorists. Several people responded that would likely change if the intersection was made safer for pedestrians.

Other comments included remarks about unsafe walking conditions in the area and safety concerns relating to the access of first responders and bus drivers in a roundabout.

Bennett said Wednesday there have been no serious injury crashes at roundabouts over the last 10 years in the state of Minnesota. He added roundabouts result in a 78 percent reduction in severe crashes and a 48 percent reduction in overall crashes.

In 2017-18, the city was awarded $483,480 from the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Local Partnership Program and $900,000 from MnDOT’s Local Road Improvement Program to help pay for the roundabout.

Northfield resident Wayne Kivell said he favors all pedestrian crossings being below ground. He said roundabouts are safer than other traffic control methods because they keep the flow of traffic moving.

“Any of the roundabouts are safer and better than what we have now,” he said.

Resident Katie Coudron has two children who attend Northfield Middle and High schools. Her children would be able to use the underpasses to get to school because of the close proximity of their homes to the schools.

“It’s important,” she said of the project. “I think that something needs to be done to that intersection to make it safer for all the kids who need to get to all of these schools.”

To Coudron, “this intersection impacts our daily life, and so we wanted to know what was being proposed and to give input to what we think is going to work best for our community.”

Northfield Public Schools Superintendent Matt Hillmann said roundabouts have been proven to result in reduced wait times and fewer crashes. To him, the project would allow for safer options for students to bike or walk to school.

“We all recognize that this intersection has been a problem for a long time for a number of different reasons, and I’m really pleased that we are moving forward to address the issue,” he said. “Reasonable people can have different opinions on what the right approach is. At the end of the day, the data that I have seen around roundabouts suggests that they are the safest alternative there.”

The preferred option is expected to be selected in early September. Construction is slated for next summer. Detours are expected during construction.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115.

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