East Grand Forks narrowly picks Bygland roundabout over 10th Street rework

Joe Bowen, Grand Forks Herald
·5 min read

Apr. 21—A new street in an industrial park or a roundabout on a busy road?

That was the question East Grand Forks officials have asked themselves for the past few months and on Tuesday they narrowly decided to stick with the roundabout. City Council members voted 4-3 to keep a $1.6 million traffic circle at the intersection of Bygland Road and Rhinehart Drive in their long-range transportation plans, which means it'll be the target for about $860,000 worth of federal funding instead of a $2.2 million plan to rebuild a segment of 10th Street Northeast near several construction and agricultural businesses on the east end of town. Voting in favor of the roundabout were City Council members Clarence Vetter, Tim Johnson, Marc DeMers and Brian Larson. Voting against it were Dale Helms, Tim Riopelle and Mark Olstad.

The vote came amid a flurry of objections to the roundabout, including the additional cost the city would incur if or when it needs to buy properties adjacent to it. Ellis Austin, a longtime Eastside resident, said Tuesday that neighbors who know the city has committed to the roundabout could charge a premium for their property. And Mayor Steve Gander, who is not a voting member of the council, said forging ahead with the project without knowing how much those acquisitions would cost was like committing to build a house on land he didn't own.

Gander suggested putting both projects into the city's long-range plans, and said it wouldn't be a waste of civic resources to move ahead with the projects in tandem if the city planned to complete both eventually.

"If we're going to do it anyway," he said, "it's not wasted time."

Opponents also worried about the purported safety benefits of a roundabout. State studies indicate that they "calm" traffic and, when accidents do happen, they tend to be less severe. Ellis and Helms, however, pointed to a 2017 Minnesota Department of Transportation study that indicates crashes between motor vehicles and pedestrians increased slightly at intersections after roundabouts were built there. Between 2004 and 2013, state researchers found 10 pedestrian crashes at intersections that would eventually be the site of a roundabout. They found 18 such crashes at those same sites once a roundabout was installed.

But that data point belies some important context: "after construction" crash data looked at 142 individual sites between 2006 and 2015, and "before construction" data looked at only 84 sites between 2004 and 2013. That's a considerable difference in the number of "site years" the state recorded for each of those data sets, and a quick Herald analysis indicates that there were about 0.021 pedestrian crashes per site year before a roundabout was constructed and 0.023 after one was constructed — a relative difference that is much smaller than the difference between 10 pre-roundabout crashes and 18 post-roundabout ones.

In related news, council members:

— Authorized a 25% cut to the fee businesses pay for on-sale liquor licenses between July 1 of this year and June 30, 2022. The state government issues those liquor licenses, and those dates encompass its 2022 fiscal year.

— OK'd a $250,937 contract with Opp Construction to repair part of DeMers Avenue near the Sorlie Bridge and a segment of Business Highway 2 immediately south of its intersection with DeMers. Opp's bid was the lowest of the three received by city staff, but it was still about 5.5% higher than city engineering consultants anticipated. In an April 8 memo to council members, City Engineer Steve Emery said he feels the company's bid is still reasonable and that it does "quality work and is very efficient with completion of projects which we are looking for on this project to minimize the time of disruption" of business. The total project cost is set to be about $338,000, $287,000 of which is set to be paid for via the Minnesota Department of Transportation's "Local Partnership Program," $43,000 of which is set to come from the city's state aid allocation, and $8,100 of which is set to come from East Grand Forks Water & Light.

— Were briefed on a rebranded semiprofessional football team that's set up shop in East Grand Forks. The MinnDak Titans, formerly the Tri City Northstars, have an agreement in place to play their home games at East Grand Forks High School. The team's first home game is May 8 at the high school.

— Heard several residents' objections to a planned asphalt plant about a mile southeast of East Grand Forks. R.J. Zavoral & Sons construction company has asked Polk County planners for a 10-year permit to operate an asphalt plant and contractor yard at 18274 State Highway 220 SW.

Speakers worried that the plant could harm the nearby Red Lake River and release carcinogenic vapors across the area. The city has no formal position on the plant because it sits outside its borders, but council member Clarence Vetter asked Mayor Steve Gander to write a letter to the county expressing the city's opposition to it. The county's Planning Commission is set to meet at 9 a.m. Friday, April 23, to consider the company's permit request and a handful of other unrelated requests for new construction projects, such as a rental storage facility and a large garage.