Anoka County is considering adding a third roundabout to the proposed Birch Street corridor design.
Assistant Anoka County Engineer Joe MacPherson, along with other county staff, attended the City Council's Dec. 2 work session to present a new concept for the corridor.
The county first visited the council to discuss the project back in January. The county held an open house in October at Rice Lake Elementary so residents could learn more about the project, share their comments/concerns and ask questions.
The $3 million project shown to neighbors at the October open house included two roundabouts: one at West Shadow Lake Drive and the other at Tomahawk Trail. The design also included pedestrian accommodations and a raised median throughout the project.
“We have been reaching out to several of the residents who live along that corridor (and) who left comments at the open house. We had various questions from ‘How do I get to my house now? How do I enter my street from the corridor?’” MacPherson recalled. “As a design team, we took a look at several of the comments from the residences
in neighborhoods east of West Shadow Lake Drive ... the original design cut off the left in and left out for a few of the streets.”
To solve that issue, the county is considering adding another roundabout at the intersection of Old Birch Street and Birch Street. The design is preliminary and the estimated project cost has not been updated, MacPherson said. He noted that the county first wanted to present the new design option to the council to gather feedback.
“What this does is it gives each one of those streets full access. You won't necessarily be able to make a left directly out of your street onto Birch, but you can go down and use the roundabout, which creates a safe method to make a U-turn,” MacPherson said.
The disadvantage of the new design, Macpherson said, is residents might have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that the corridor might have three roundabouts. “A lot of people are still not comfortable with the idea of a roundabout, so going from a corridor of no roundabouts to three might be hard to grasp.”
Mayor Jeff Reinert said, “I wasn't thrilled about two roundabouts and now there are three. Is this kind of the go-to solution whenever there is a problem now? This (roundabout at Old Birch Street) seems like it is trying too hard and the other one (roundabout at Tomahawk Trail) does, too. The West Shadow (roundabout) kind of makes sense to me.”
Reinert added that he was concerned the project would force out a longtime resident on the corner of West Shadow Lade Drive and Birch Street. MacPherson said the county is reviewing the proposed roundabout configuration to potentially reduce/minimize impacts to the resident. Reinert was also concerned that adding the roundabout at Old Birch Street would generate more traffic near the school. MacPherson said, “Based on our traffic analysis, the volume that is out there and the projected volumes, we are not seeing any issues.”
Councilwoman Melissa Maher said, “Just like everything else, everyone will be mad at first, but five years from now people won't remember it was any different.”
The county plans to host another open house in early 2020. “We are going to come back to the table and do a little more analysis,” MacPherson said. “We still have some work to do to show the council that it is a worthwhile project and really refine the improvements, what they expect to see and what we need to do to make improvements there, because ultimately this project is for safety and capacity. There are certain things that if we don't do them, we are not really gaining a benefit.”
The county will continue to work with city staff to refine the design. Ultimately, the project will require municipal consent to be eligible for state aid funding.
Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.