A pitch to reverse direction on Elton Hills Drive could reduce traffic lanes.
The Rochester City Council voted unanimously to direct Public Works staff to revisit a past recommendation for reducing travel lanes on the street stretching west from Broadway Avenue to U.S. Highway 52. The road averages nearly 11,000 vehicles per day.
“We’re just looking to make traffic a little bit safer on Elton Hills Drive, and this is apparently what staff had proposed a number of years ago and was denied by council,” said Council Member Annalissa Johnson, who has been a council member since 2017.
Johnson was joined by Council Member Shaun Palmer, who is in his first year on the council, in recommending the change of course for Elton Hills Drive. “I think it will make the traffic move better through that area, and it will be safer, and it will be less cost to the city to have it be a three-lane road,” Palmer said.
City Engineer Dillon Dombrovski said the earlier plans to narrow the street called for maintaining a single traffic lane in each direction while adding a center turn lane, as well as bike lanes.
“The plans that were brought to the council in the past included the bike lanes,” he said. “If we eliminated a lane in each direction and didn’t incorporate something else, we’d just be creating wider lanes and probably promoting higher travel speeds.”
The proposed changes come as the Elton Hills Drive bridge near 125 Live is already reduced to a single traffic lane in each direction due to concerns about cracks in the bridge’s pier caps. The bridge is unlikely to return to four lanes this year. The city has still not decided whether the bridge should be repaired or completely replaced.
When it comes to the overall plan for Elton Hills Drive, Staver said his support for moving the request forward hinged on holding a public hearing on the plan.
“Bike lanes can be a very contentious topic among people; reducing travel lanes can be very contentious,” he said, noting public input will be important.
“I think we all react to the people we hear from,” he said.
Council Member Michael Wojcik agreed, noting that the hearings would also provide an opportunity to share the merits of the proposal.
“We want to have that chance to engage and educate,” he said.
Dombrovski said the plan will need to be revisited by Public Works staff with some possible adjustments for parking concerns at tight points in the roadway.
With no funding to put new stripes on the street this year, he said the city will have sufficient time to hold public forums leading up to a public hearing and council decision for potential street changes next year.
Discussion will also include previously recommended safety improvements and turning restrictions at the Rochester Rec Center.
In a related item, the council approved a similar three-lane plan for Assisi Drive Northwest, stretching south of Elton Hills Drive near U.S. Highway 52. The street was already slated for a striping upgrade, and Dombrovski said the change could be done within the existing budget.