BRAINERD – As Crow Wing County Engineer Tim Bray sought to highlight the growing role of local sales tax in the county’s road building plans, some attendees at the April 12 county council meeting focused on the inclusion of roundabouts.
The five-year, $72.6 million freeway improvement plan includes 152 miles of county road surface improvements and five future roundabouts, one of which is scheduled to be built this year at the intersection of Wise Roads and Beaver Dam at Brainerd.
“We are really investing a lot of time, effort and money into these safety improvements,” Bray said, noting that people would soon start to feel the impact of this year’s roundabout construction.
“…This is just the first of many over the years, and we’ll likely add more in the years to come as well.”
After Bray finished his presentation on the plan, former Crosslake Mayor Steve Roe approached the microphone and asked Bray if the plans included driver training on how to navigate roundabouts . Roe said his wife was recently involved in an accident at a multi-lane roundabout in St. Cloud, where a driver entering the roundabout struck the side of her vehicle.
Bray said a variety of educational materials exist and are available to those who wish to learn more about driving in roundabouts. He noted on his way to the meeting that morning that he saw someone incorrectly using the roundabout at Northwest Fourth and Jackson streets.
“There is an education gap,” Bray said. “But the good thing about it is – I’m sorry your wife was involved in that T-bone accident – but I can tell you it happened at low speed and I hope she’s okay. and that the others are fine.
“A T-crash like this occurring at a high-speed intersection with stop signs ignored, or lights or signals being ignored, would have been catastrophic and would have had very different outcomes. And this is the advantage of these.
Statistics from the Minnesota Department of Transportation support Bray’s safety claims. A 2017 state study showed roundabouts resulted in an 80% reduction in fatal and serious crashes compared to right-angle intersections with signals or signs and a 42% drop in all types of crashes. bodily accidents at intersections with any type of roundabout.
“There may be a small downside for those who have trouble learning to ride them, but the safety benefits they provide far outweigh that,” Bray said. “It’s nearly impossible to be killed in one, and the same can’t be said for the other types of intersections that currently exist.”
Resident Rick Felt expressed concern about the alleged increased cost of roundabouts over signals – which his research found was six to ten times higher – and questioned the safety impacts, noting the difficulty of navigating a semi-trailer through one.
“If it’s really about safety and making certain aspects safer, we also have to be good stewards of taxpayers’ money,” Felt said. “And I find it very egregious in some ways to say that it’s okay to spend 10 times as much money on one roundabout while neglecting the other nine intersections which are about equally dangerous.”
Bray refuted Felt’s characterization of roundabout costs, saying the average figure was well below the 10 times quoted by Felt. Multiple sources again supported Bray’s response, including various analyzes from local governments and engineers.
Although each case is different and roundabouts may sometimes require more right-of-way acquisition than a signalized intersection, full accounting of all costs – including hardware and electricity to power red lights , future plans to widen a road where traffic can back off at a signal, and the societal costs associated with accidents — show that they are comparable to other intersection controls.
“How much is a human life worth? And so we’re here to make those intersections safer,” Bray said. “…The benefits of safety, of not hurting people, of life-changing events at these events are well worth the investment. And that’s really my only answer.
Commissioner Paul Koering, who attended the meeting virtually, said he believed the county council and Bray were trying to protect lives by choosing safer alternatives.
“To make it look like we’re not good stewards of taxpayers’ money is just a bunch of bologna as far as I’m concerned,” Koering said. “I try to pay attention to people’s lives, at least when I vote on something.”
Other planned roundabout intersections in the future include those at County Highways 11 and 3 south of Crosslake in 2023, County Road 31 and Road 210 in Crosby in 2023, County Road 77 and the Nokomis Avenue in Nisswa in 2023, and County Highways 3 and 4 near Merrifield in 2024. Another roundabout is tentatively planned on County Highways 3 and 66 in Crosslake in 2024.
In 2021, local option sales tax revenue has become by far the main source of funding for the motorway service – something Bray said he would never have predicted when the county council considered the tax for the first time in 2015.
At the time, county state aid funding seemed to be the most stable source, while a sales tax was considered less predictable. But the pandemic has reversed that assumption, as a significant reduction in travel has led to lower gasoline tax collection. Yet the Brainerd Lakes region has remained a regional business destination and visitors have continued to come, as evidenced by record sales tax collection in each of the past two years.
County Administrator Tim Houle noted that Crow Wing County’s experience with the half-cent levy differs from neighboring counties due to its tourist appeal. He noted that in Morrison County, up to 75-80% of sales tax revenue comes from residents. At Crow Wing, on the other hand, up to 50% of sales tax revenue is generated by visitors.
“People come here from surrounding counties, people come here from the subway, people come here from all over the country, and they buy goods and services and they use the roads. And unless they fill up here, they haven’t paid for the road,” Houle said. “…So it’s different for us than it is for many counties in Greater Minnesota and it’s been a good investment for us.”
Of the $72.6 million plan presented by Bray, $37.7 million will be covered by sales tax money, funding 79 miles of road improvements. This includes the resurfacing of County Road 8 this year and the northern and southern portions of the Ojibwa/Nashway Road reconstruction in 2023 and 2024.
Commissioners approved the five-year plan unanimously.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation shares information for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists on how to navigate a roundabout.
- Slow down when approaching a roundabout. For multi-lane roundabouts, as with any intersection, move into the correct lane.
- Give way to pedestrians in the crosswalk. It’s the law.
- Give way to vehicles already in the roundabout. Merge into the flow of traffic when it’s safe.
- Continue to the roundabout to the exit. Do not stop or overtake in a roundabout.
- Leave the roundabout immediately if an emergency vehicle approaches, then stop. Do not stop at the roundabout.
- Give way to pedestrians in the pedestrian crossing at the exit of the roundabout.
- Give big trucks more space in a roundabout. Large trucks can straddle both lanes when crossing a multi-lane roundabout.
Cross only at crosswalks and always stay on designated walkways.
- Never cross the central island.
- Go through the roundabout one approach at a time. Use the middle island as a midpoint where you can check oncoming traffic.
- Ride with traffic inside the roundabout or use crosswalks appropriately.
Follow the same rules as vehicles when driving through traffic and give way at the roundabout entrance. As traffic is slower inside the roundabout, cyclists should be able to travel at the same speed or almost at the same speed as motorists, respecting traffic.
Source: Minnesota Department of Transportation.
CHELSEY PERKINS, Community Editor, can be reached at 218-855-5874 or
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