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Smoothing out traffic flow in DL

The MN Department of Transportation has plans for a roundabout at Highway 59 and Willow Street. Photo by Brian Basham

Big changes will be seen on the streets and highways in the Detroit Lakes area in the next few years.

There will be a roundabout at the intersection of Highway 59 and Willow Street. There will be a frontage road from downtown to the Walmart area. There will be an underpass under Highway 59 south. And the southern portion of Washington Avenue (the city’s main business district) will get the facelift the north side saw a couple years ago.

The Washington Avenue project is slated for 2014, and the street will look similar to the streetscaping of North Washington Avenue.

The project was originally scheduled to take place a year earlier, but after the Downtown Crossing project was completed and parking assessments were in place, the city agreed to push the project back a year to help with costs.

As for the Willow Street-Highway 59 crossing, the project will happen in 2014 as well. MnDOT has been studying the crossing for a couple years, trying to find a solution to accidents, traffic stacking and other issues the intersection has posed for many years.

Consultant Jack Broz said the main reason for recommending a roundabout is safety. Broz works for HR Green, a consulting company hired by MnDOT to analyze several highway issues in the area.

He said the cost would be about the same if the Highway 59-Willow Street intersection was equipped with traffic lights or turned into a roundabout.

MnDOT turned the intersection into a four-way stop several years ago as a temporary fix. Since then it has analyzed traffic numbers in the summer, fall and during WE Fest. The roundabout construction is scheduled for 2014.

“It is not acceptable long term (as is),” Broz said.

The stop sign causes way too much traffic back-up at busy times. He said that stoplights can also cause delays, waiting for the light to change when no one is at the signal. With a roundabout, there is “no additional delay when no one is there.”

Some people who oppose a roundabout have suggested a signaled stop and that the north-south signal on Highway 59 could be programmed to stay green all the time until someone from a different direction signals it to change.

Signal lights are great if people obey them, Broz said, but many people run signal lights, causing severe, even fatal, accidents.

“A roundabout is actually a safety improvement,” Broz said.

Plus, at WE Fest time, “they can handle more traffic than that policeman can flagging,” he added.

The $2.5 million project will also be shared with the city, which will pay about $480,000 towards the project.

The biggest project of them all will be the frontage road from downtown to the Walmart area.

The city and MnDOT have been meeting on a regular basis to discuss the future of Highway 10 west and Highway 59 south.

The estimate for the project comes in at about $10 million, which will be shared between the state and the city, though not necessarily evenly.

Though nothing is finalized at this point, Tom Lundberg with MnDOT estimates that $7.9 million will come from MnDOT and $2.6 million from the city.

The project will include a frontage road from Holmes Street to the Walmart area with an underpass under Highway 59.

The project is scheduled to take place in 2015.

Lundberg said there will be more costs to the city for items like signals, holding ponds, multi-use trails and utility work done at Morrow Street and Thomas Avenue.

“We really easily could be looking at another $300,000 in utility work,” City Engineer Jon Pratt said.

The city and MnDOT will be hosting a public meeting on the project his spring, and the city council will vote on the matter this spring as well so the project can move forward.

The city has also reached out to the Canadian Pacific Railroad about stopping trains farther south to not block the crossing that will be utilized even more when the underpass is in place.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.