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Roundabout project aimed at reducing crashes on NW 4th St.

The goal of the roundabout at Jackson and Northwest Fourth streets is to slow down traffic coming from off Riverside Drive, hopefully preventing crashes at the James Street intersection.

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TJ Lake (left) points to a spot on the designs for next year's construction project on Northwest Fourth Street during an open house Tuesday, Nov. 26, at the Brianerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

The addition of a roundabout and median aim to make the segment of Northwest Fourth Street between Washington and Jackson streets in Brainerd safer for motorists and pedestrians.

Those who attended an open house to learn more about the project Tuesday, Nov. 26, agreed the changes are necessary, even though traveling the area may be difficult during construction. A traffic study done two years ago showed 28 crashes at the intersection of James and Northwest Fourth streets over the previous five years, which is six and a half times the statewide average for similar intersections.

“It’s dangerous; it’s inconvenient,” said Dan Hegstad, station manager of Lakeland PBS on Northwest Third Street. “I love the roundabout. It will make things work so much smoother.”

The project is planned for summer 2020 and will see a roundabout put in at the intersection of Northwest Fourth and Jackson streets, with a median extending from that intersection to Washington Street/Highway 210.

For the most part, the construction will take place within the existing right of way space on Northwest Fourth Street. The roundabout, though, will cut into properties on the corners of the Jackson Street intersection, meaning the Essentia Health Sports Center will lose about 16 parking spots. Engineers are working with property owners in that area.

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From the new roundabout to Washington Street, the northbound portion of Northwest Fourth Street will narrow to one 18-foot lane, while the southbound side will be the same until James Street, when it will split into three lanes — two left turn lanes and one right turn/straight lane. A 10-foot walking trail, separated from the road by greenspace, will be added to the east side of the road, with designated crosswalks at the roundabout.

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Designs from Bolton and Menk show the plans to add a roundabout to the intersection of Northwest Fourth and Jackson streets in Brainerd, along with a median on Northwest Fourth Street between Jackson and Washington streets. The project is planned for summer 2020.

Currently drivers on James Street can cross Northwest Fourth or turn right and left. The addition of a 6-foot median means traffic coming off James Street will only be able to turn right, which project engineers with Bolton and Menk hope will decrease crashes involving left-turning vehicles. Engineers hope the roundabout will slow down traffic coming from Riverside Drive and reduce the likelihood of crashes at James Street.

Mayor Ed Menk asked if there was a way to increase sight lines for eastbound vehicles turning from James Street onto Northwest Fourth Street, as vehicles have to nearly pull out into traffic to see what’s coming from the left because of the trees along the road.

Rob Hall, assistant Crow Wing County engineer, said that question has been brought up before and said project managers will talk with the property owner at that intersection to see if a solution can be found.

To help with traffic flow after eliminating left turns from James Street, project plans include paving the dirt portion of Northwest Third Street. Currently, the dirt road connects with Jackson Street at the bottom of the hill behind the Tyrol Hills Shopping Center. The city already owns the road, but TJ Lake owns the property on both sides, meaning he would foot the assessment bill. Lake said he is negotiating the price of pavement and curbing with the city.

“We like the idea of the roundabout, it’s just a matter of figuring out the right price for the tar,” he said.

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Feedback and detours

Eric Charpentier, who lives in the Tyrol Hills area, recognized the necessity of the project for the sake of safety but said he is concerned about his new route to work in Baxter during construction. Right now, Charpentier said he turns right onto Northwest Fourth Street from James Street and then takes Jackson Street to Baxter. If both intersections at Jackson and James streets are closed at the same time during construction, Charpentier said on his drive home from work he would either have to try to make a left turn from Washington onto Northwest Second Street, which can be especially difficult during the summer with heavy traffic, or drive farther down Washington and turn around somewhere after the bridge so he can make a right turn onto Northwest Second.

“This is great for safety. It will be a very nice project,” Charpentier said, noting Jackson Street is the only viable place for a roundabout. “Is it a little bit inconvenient sometimes? Yeah, sure, but people will just have to reroute their daily routine. But that’s better than getting your car cracked up and getting someone hurt.”

Drivers who regularly use Beaver Dam Road and County Highway 20/Riverside Drive to connect with Washington Street will instead have to traverse either County Highway 3 or Highway 371 during construction. Phil Martin of Bolton and Menk acknowledged the detour will likely be difficult, turning a quarter-mile drive into roughly 3 miles for some, but said there is really no easy way to go about it.

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While a portion of Northwest Fourth Street is under construction next year, drivers coming into Brainerd from Riverside Drive or Beaver Dam Road will have to use either County Road 3 or Highway 371. Rendering courtesy of Bolton and Menk.

Rick Fargo, of Progressive Property Management, which owns the Riverview Plaza apartment complex on the northeast corner of James and Northwest Fourth streets, also agreed the project needs to be done, though noted the building may need a second access point. Right now, the only point of access is on Northwest Fourth Street. Fargo and engineers from Bolton and Menk agreed there may be a need for another access point from James Street, which could become part of the project.

“We all agree it needs to be done,” Fargo said, adding more thought just needs to be put into the final design, both long term and during construction.

Cost and timeline

The total cost is estimated at $1.4 million, with construction amounting to about $1.1 million. MnDOT’s Local Road Improvement Program contributed $800,000 toward construction costs, with the rest of the funds coming from the city of Brainerd and Crow Wing County. Hall said the county is responsible for about two-thirds of the project, with Brainerd picking up the last third.

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The project will likely be bid in February or March, with construction projected to start in summer 2020 and lasting roughly two to three months.

Note: This story was updated to correctly identify the intersection with 28 crashes found in a traffic study to be the intersection of James and Northwest Fourth streets.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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