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Clay County roundabout aims to curb crashes

Location: Future roundabout1 / 2
Graphic: Roundabout2 / 2

MOORHEAD -- A deadly intersection south of Moorhead will become safer when a roundabout is installed in 2011, planners say.

High speeds combined with frequent vehicle turns at the intersection of Highway 75 and Clay County Road 12 have made for a dangerous mix, according to Thomas Lundberg, a design engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the project manager for the roundabout.

He said over the past 20 years or so there have been six fatalities at the intersection and approximately 40 crashes.

"The issue is the high-speed, right-angle type crashes," Lundberg said.

Roundabouts, a fairly common intersection feature in some parts of the country, remain rare in this region. And while they take some getting used to, the effort is worth it, Lundberg said.

"People have to go through them slower. And they're entering at an angle, so if there is a fender-bender, it will be a sideswipe-type angle, versus a high-speed right angle.

"It's protecting people from the nasty stuff," Lundberg added.

Roundabouts are capable of reducing the chances of a fatal crash by 90 percent and they can reduce injury crashes by 75 percent, according to statistics released by MnDOT.

The cost of building a roundabout is greater than that for an intersection that uses signs or signals, but roundabouts don't have the long-term maintenance and energy costs that come with stop lights.

The Clay County project is expected to cost about $1.1 million to build, with the expense shared between the federal, state and county governments.

When construction on the project starts in early 2011, it will be done in conjunction with paving work on Clay County Road 12 to the Red River.

Because a detour will be in place, work should go quickly, according to Lundberg, who estimated it will take about three months to build the roundabout.

Assistant Clay County Engineer Nathan Gannon said county highway workers know the intersection on Highway 75 well.

"One of our employees was sideswiped at that intersection trying to get to work one morning," Gannon said.

"There has been a history of accidents there. That's why we put the flashing lights up as a short-term measure, to bring people's attention to County Road 12," Gannon said.