An Elton Hills Drive traffic study released Monday afternoon suggests a path of changing the roadway that connects Broadway Avenue to U.S. Highway 52.
The study, conducted by the Minneapolis-based Allant Engineering, recommends converting most of the four-lane corridor to a single traffic lane in each direction, along with a center turn lane.
“Based on the characteristics of the corridor, and findings of the safety and mobility analysis, the most beneficial safety improvement for this corridor would be conversion to a three-lane facility,” the report states.
The proposed change would start approximately one block west of Broadway Avenue to the frontage road near U.S. Highway 52.
Other proposed changes include traffic signal reconstruction at the 14th Avenue intersection, changes to intersections at 14th Avenue and Northbrook Lane and the addition of highly visible crosswalk markings.
Sam Budzyna, Rochester’s traffic and parking manager, said local Public Works staff agrees the three-lane conversion and other proposed changes, which also include optimizing traffic signal timing, would provide the highest level of safety for the roadway that averages 11,000 vehicles a day.
However, he noted the three-lane conversion, commonly referred to as a “road diet,” won’t be the only option presented to the Rochester City Council on Dec. 16.
“We will offer a menu of safety improvements,” he said.
The Alliant study noted the proposed three-lane change is a common move throughout the state.
“Three-lane roadways have been successfully implemented for decades, but recent years have seen an increase in popularity and an upsurge in interest from agencies throughout Minnesota and nationally to convert existing four-lane roadways to three lanes,” it states.
The reasoning behind the shift is typically to improve safety, as well as to provide options for increased pedestrian and bike traffic.
The study also cites some concerns with going to three lanes, including creating conflicts for residential driveways, reducing capacity during peak hours and increasing wait times when traffic is heavy. It indicates the concerns can be addressed through design options.
The study also suggests several changes that could be made to improve safety while maintaining the four lanes. They include adding center left-turn lanes or medians, which would likely reduce on-street parking.
It also notes that design options are limited by the city’s desire to work within the existing curbs to keep costs down.
The city's proposed 2020 budget includes $2.3 million in state aid for resurfacing and preservation of the street, which comes with the ability to change striping on the roadway.
City Engineer Dillon Dombrovski said the earmarked funding doesn't mean it will all be used on Elton Hills Drive, noting the goal is to make sure enough is available to complete the project. Remaining funds could be used elsewhere in the city.
The latest proposal for changes to Elton Hills Drive was initiated in 2012, with approval to fund the project at a future date. Years later, the council rejected a plan to move forward with proposed changes.
In May, two City Council members, Annalissa Johnson and Shaun Palmer, proposed revisiting the plan. Neither was on the council when the previous decisions were made, but they represent the two wards that include the roadway.
Since then, a group of area residents formed a group named Take Back Our Streets Rochester to oppose the potential reduction in traffic lanes on the street, citing concerns about increased congestion on the street and lack of access from neighborhoods that must use the street on a daily basis.
To address concerns and gather input before the City Council reviews options, Rochester Public Works is planning an open house next week to present the proposed safety improvements.
No formal presentation is planned, but staff will be on hand from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday at Hoover Elementary School, 369 Elton Hills Drive NW.
Community members unable to attend the open house in person can share their thoughts via the city’s Polco website at www.polco.us/Rochestermn. The polling website includes questions regarding potential changes to Elton Hills Drive.
The project is set to be presented to the City Council during its 3:30 p.m. meeting on Dec. 16. At that point, the council will be asked to give further direction on the project, but a formal vote on approving the effort will be part of a later discussion.