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Planned roundabout near Century High School seeks to address neighborhood concerns

Open house provided sneak peek as final plans are being developed.

Intersection Open House
Community members look over proposed plans to add a roundabout to the intersection of Cassidy Road Northeast, Viola Road Northeast and Century Hills Drive at Century High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Duane Luinstra said he expects traffic to be slower and safer after a roundabout is constructed near his home.

He lives in the fourplex nearest to planned changes at the intersection of Viola Road Northeast and Cassidy Drive, southeast of Century High School.

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Rochester and Olmsted County public works departments have joined forces to address traffic and safety concerns by proposing the creation of a single-lane roundabout, which means east and west traffic will merge from two lanes to a single lane in each direction at the site.

“It shouldn’t be that bad, but it will take time to get used to it,” said Luinstra after reviewing plans at an open house for the project Wednesday night.

Viola road roundabout_00_00.jpg
Elements of a proposed roundabout at Viola Road Northeast and Cassidy Drive are seen.
Contributed/ Bolton and Menk

His neighbor, Carol Volstad, said she’s hopeful the changes will increase safety at the site she can easily watch from her home.

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While she said she hasn’t seen other accidents at the site, she did witness a 15-year-old being struck by a car last year while crossing at the intersection on foot.

The incident sent the teen to the hospital and caused neighbors to call for a change.

Nick Sandford, Olmsted County’s traffic engineer, said the 2021 incident raised attention to the challenges at the site, but it’s not the reason changes are being considered, since plans were already being made.

Intersection Open House
Nick Sandford, a traffic engineer for Olmsted County listens to concerns from community members during the open house event for the proposed roundabout at the Cassidy Road Northeast, Viola Road Northeast and Century Hills Drive intersection at Century High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin

He said no other pedestrian-related collisions were found in a traffic study of the site, and crash rates aren’t higher than expected.

However, he said study does indicate a need to address traffic flow and safety concerns related to being near a high school.

Some of the dozen or so neighborhood residents that gathered at the event Wednesday said they are especially concerned about school-related traffic, but Brett Jenkinson, Rochester Public Works project manager, said the proposed changes need to address the bigger picture.

“You can’t build an intersection for an eight-minute problem,” he said of peak periods before and after school.

Invited to Wednesday's open house were sent to more than 1,000 area homes, according to Jenkinson, and it followed an February online presentation regarding the project, which sought to raise awareness of the proposed changes.

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Volstad said she continues to have some doubts about the proposal, based on the students who go from her neighborhood south of Viola Road to Century High School at the north.

“I don’t know if it will help, because high school students are good at darting around in different ways,” she said.

The frequency for people to take alternate routes is one of the reasons city and county staff said a pedestrian bridge isn’t the right option. They said people tend to frequently bypass them too often, and a bridge still wouldn’t address traffic flow issues.

Brian Malm, a design team leader with Bolton and Menk, who was tapped to develop the plan for the site, said the single-lane roundabout was deemed the best option to address needs that include improving circulation, slowing vehicle speeds and increasing safety.

Intersection Open House
Brian Malm, design team leader with Bolton and Menk, goes over the proposed changes to the Cassidy Road Northeast, Viola Road Northeast and Century Hills Drive Northeast intersection with community members at Century High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin

The proposed roundabout, which is nearing a final design, would decrease the number of potential conflict points – areas where a collision between a vehicle and pedestrian could occur – from 32 to eight, while seeking to raise awareness of the school and students on foot.

“The pedestrians will be more visible than they are today,” said Malm, who is a parent of a Century student.

He said the rate for vehicles yielding to pedestrians at single-lane roundabouts is 83%, compared to 7% at crossings similar to current conditions at Viola Road and Cassidy Drive.

Roundabout-Education_00_00.jpg
Information on navigating a roundabout is displayed
Contributed/ City of Rochester

The added safety does come at a cost, with an estimated $2.3 million to $2.4 million price tag for the roundabout, compared to $400,000 adding traffic signals.

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“Cost is not always the driving factor when we are looking at intersection improvements,” Malm said, adding: “Sometimes the lowest-cost solution isn’t the best solution.”

In addition to added safety due to shorter crossings for students, Malm said the roundabout will offer better traffic flow than a signaled intersection.

He said a traffic study shows drivers will have an average 13-second delay related to getting into the roundabout, compared to an anticipated 17-second average delay if traffic lights are installed.

Once the final design is approved by the city and county, a contractor is expected to be sought for construction, which is expected to start after the last day of school in 2023, with the goal of fully opening the intersection by the time classes start in the fall.

To accomplish that, the neighborhoods will face three stages of planned detours, with access to Cassidy Drive being closed for part of the construction, and access from Century Hills Drive at the south being closed throughout construction.

Detour-Maps-1_00_00.jpg
The first of three phases of detours proposed for the summer of 2023 is depicted at Viola Road Northeast and Cassidy Drive.
Contributed/ Bolton and Menk

As Duane Luinstra eyed detour maps Wednesday, he said a summer of inconvenience is worth the added safety the change is expected to bring.

“I think it will be safer with the one lane,” he said of the roundabout.

Detour-Maps-2_00_00.jpg
The second of three phases of detours proposed for the summer of 2023 is depicted at Viola Road Northeast and Cassidy Drive.<br/>
Contributed/ Bolton and Menk
Detour-Maps-3_00_00.jpg
The third of three phases of detours proposed for the summer of 2023 is depicted at Viola Road Northeast and Cassidy Drive.
Contributed/ Bolton and Menk

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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