I went to cover a special meeting last Tuesday night, and found out there wasn’t one.
It was something else instead.
The meeting was at the Public Safety building, a.k.a. fire hall, and was to be about the upcoming Highway 169 reconstruction project.
Engineers from the Minnesota Department of Transportation were going to be at the meeting to explain the project, and answer questions.
For the first several hours, they were supposed to be meeting individually with many of the business owners along 169, who will be dramatically impacted by the project. Then, at 6 p.m., the general public was invited to attend and learn about the project and voice their concerns.
I arrived at 6 p.m., ready for the public meeting.
There were quite a few other people there as well, milling about and talking about the project. Some were citizens of Blue Earth, some were city officials, and then there were the engineers from MnDOT.
There were three long tables set up, and on each one was a 16-foot long drawing of the project, done on an aerial view photograph of Blue Earth. They were each the same – very detailed overviews of what the project entails.
For those who don’t know, MnDOT plans to totally reconstruct Highway 169 as it passes through Blue Earth, in 2013. The project starts just north of the intersection near McDonald’s, and ends near the entrance to Riverside Cemetery.
The project includes making the roadway two lane most of the way, and also includes adding sidewalks (walkways) on both sides of the highway.
Of course, there is one major controversial part of this project which most people have heard about, and many are concerned with.
Not just one roundabout, but three of them are planned along the route through the city.
One will be at the intersection by McDonald’s, one by the intersection by Kwik Trip, and a third in between those two, where Leland Parkway connects to Highway 169.
After waiting for 15 or 20 minutes for the meeting to start, it suddenly dawned on me; there wasn’t going to be any formal meeting. This informal gathering was the meeting.
Citizens showed up, and started talking with each other, asking questions and voicing concerns, and the city and MnDOT officials were answering them, one-on-one.
Very clever, these engineers. It totally diffused the possible anger that might have been vented – and grown – at a regular meeting.
There were people there who were upset with the project. Most of the concerns fall into three categories; concern over loss of frontage property due to the project, concern over inability of customers to get to the businesses during the construction, and, yes, concern over the roundabouts.
The project engineers admit they are taking away some of the businesses’ front parking areas, but say these areas are in the highway right-of-way. They also say they will work hard to do the project in stages, and have access to the businesses from the sides and backs.
They spent a lot of time explaining the roundabouts. The ones here will be larger than the ones people have seen in Wisconsin, the engineers say. The round- abouts are engineered so that semis and farm equipment can easily negotiate the turns.
As far as the roundabouts being a safety hazard, the engineers say the opposite is true. An intersection with traffic lights has 32 hazard point areas, the engineers explain. A roundabout intersection has only eight.
Many of the persons at last Tuesday night’s meeting remained unconvinced. They asked how the older people in our community were going to be able to handle these roundabouts.
“They will get inside and not be able to get out,” they feared.
The engineers respond that they are pretty easy to negotiate, and only have one lane, not two. Speed is the biggest factor. To negotiate the turns, drivers have to slow to 15 miles per hour.
According to the MnDOT officials, the roundabouts are part of the project, and are not negotiable.
Whether folks are riled up or not.