Two little roundabouts could make a big difference in the commute through downtown St. James.
The Federal Highway Administration is steering $864,000 innovation grant to the city to construct a first for Minnesota -- a pair of linked mini-roundabouts the state hopes will improve the safety and flow of traffic through town, without disrupting the heavy grain trucks that travel this stretch of Hwy. 4.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation is about to launch a two-year, $6.9 million reconstruction project on the 1.6 miles of highway that run through this south-central Minnesota city. The roundabout funding will allow the project to remove two downtown traffic lights along First Avenue. Without the federal grant, City Manager Joe McCabe said, St. James was facing up to $600,000 in upgrades for those intersection lights, which lead to a nearby railroad intersection.
"It's eliminating a major challenge...and to certain other people in the community, it's creating another challenge," said McCabe, who is fielding concerns from St. James residents who aren't thrilled by the prospect of navigating back-to-back roundabouts. Once the roundabouts are constructed, the state will give local residents a few months to test them out and get used to them before reopening the route to the detoured highway traffic.
Mini-roundabouts are a fairly new innovation in the state and St. James would be the first place in the state to introduce double-mini-roundabouts.
These smaller roundabouts fit within the existing footprint of an intersection. A single lane of traffic scoots slowly around the central island, which is designed to be low enough for large vehicles to drive straight over it if they have trouble navigating the curve. When the state set up a demonstration, McCabe said, semis were able to negotiate the circle without driving up onto the center island.
The state will begin bidding on the Hwy. 4 project next February and construction will begin in 2016 and run through 2017.
For those still trying to figure out how mini-roundabouts work, here's a video the city of Shakopee produced when its first mini-roundabout went up last year: