LUVERNE — Minnesota Department of Transportation engineers met with Rock County commissioners and Luverne City Council members Tuesday evening to discuss the potential construction of a compact roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 75 (Kniss Avenue) and Rock County State Aid Highway 4 (Main Street).

The intersection is a main thoroughfare in the city and the site of two severe crashes — including one in which a pedestrian was hit — in the last five years. Meanwhile, there were five left-turn crashes and 20 property damage crashes (fender benders), according to Ross Baker, one of two MnDOT traffic engineers to present the proposal at the joint meeting.

MnDOT plans to make improvements to U.S. 75 from Main Street to Veterans Drive in 2025, and said now is the time to consider placing a roundabout at the intersection. The existing traffic light system has met its useful life, MnDOT’s Rhonda Allis said.

“We are looking for issues and needs along the corridor,” said MnDOT Traffic Engineer Nick Ollrich. “We can look at replacing (the traffic lights) or look to see if something else makes sense.”

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The proposed compact roundabout — a “small, navigable little hump” according to MnDOT Project Manager Robert Jones — would be traversable by trucks. Its raised center median isn’t as high as the curbs in a standard roundabout. Worthington’s roundabouts are considered standard because of their non-traversable center.

Baker said a study was conducted over the past several years that looked at traffic volumes, crash history and how the intersection could operate with different alternatives.

Rock County and the city of Luverne first heard about the potential for a roundabout earlier this year.

Both entities plan to make a formal decision on whether they want a roundabout in the community before the end of this year, as MnDOT wants to begin working on plans, according to Jones.

Large vehicles passing through

Baker said MnDOT looked at traffic volumes over the past five years, with the latest traffic count taken on October 13, 2020. The results showed the intersection has a higher number of heavy commercial vehicles and trucks passing through than intersections in similarly-sized communities. Heavy commercial vehicles include farm implements such as combines and tractors, he said.

Rock County Board Chairman Stan Williamson expressed concerns of those larger implements being able to traverse a roundabout.

“Tractors (can be) pulling a 50-foot planter, and combines are coming so big they’re taking up more than one lane,” he said. “The people in the automobiles are very considerate from what I’ve seen — they give the machines plenty of room to get through. I can’t imagine getting a combine through that thing.”

County Commissioner Jody Reisch said County State Aid Highway 4 is the only east-west street in Luverne to cross the Rock River, which adds to the number of farm implements traveling the route.

Meanwhile, Luverne Mayor Pat Baustian said Premium Minnesota Pork brings 40 to 50 semi loads of hogs through town every day, and with line speeds at the processing plant increasing next week, it will likely add another 12 to 18 semi loads coming through per day. In addition, an increase in production at GEVO will also lead to increased numbers of heavy vehicles travelling through that intersection. The potential for wind turbine blades to also come through the intersection was noted.

Pedestrian traffic also a concern

Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre, as well as some Luverne city council members, expressed concerns regarding pedestrian and bicycle traffic at that intersection as people make their way to the downtown business district. They asked how pedestrian traffic would be impacted if a roundabout was constructed there.

Ollrich said slower speeds of vehicles approaching a roundabout do help, but also noted that refuge spaces can be created so that a person is only crossing one lane at a time.

“It would be ADA-accessible with truncated domes,” he said, adding that pedestrian crossing signs could also be added.

There would not be an audible protection system, however, for the visually-impaired.

Luverne Mayor Pat Baustian said he heard from a visually-impaired community member who wanted more safety measures put in place at the intersection, not fewer.

Image from MNDot Presentation
Image from MNDot Presentation

Is a roundabout necessary?

Luverne Councilman Kevin Aaker said with the intersection having two major crashes and 18 minor crashes in five years, a roundabout would decrease the number of major crashes, but likely lead to more minor crashes.

“Are we fixing a problem that doesn’t exist?” Aaker asked. “If we have two major crashes in five years, is that going to improve?”

Ollrich said the goal of MnDOT is to make the transportation system more forgiving. Roundabouts reduce the chance of a higher speed, angle-type crash, he said. Meanwhile, multi-lane roundabouts have more sideswipe crashes, but single-lane roundabouts — what is proposed at the Luverne intersection — would be less likely to lead to side-swipe crashes.

The council and county board were told there are other options if they don’t want a roundabout, including replacing the existing traffic signal.

“This is not MnDOT coming in here saying this one is the best,” Jones said. “We want to make sure we have input.”

Another alternative from the MnDoT presentation.
Another alternative from the MnDoT presentation.