Plans for a $13 million roundabout project are moving ahead at full speed, according to officials speaking at Blaine City Council.
In their regular meeting Monday, council members heard testimony from DOT project managers who presented them with an traffic flow simulation and answered questions about safety benefits and local traffic concerns. The meeting comes after much public concern about potential traffic problems and impacts to local businesses such as the Subway on the corner of Peace Portal and Marine drives.
Of the two single-lane roundabouts planned, one will replace the two stoplights at the intersection of Peace Portal Drive and Marine Drive. The other will replace the stoplight on the east side of the freeway at the intersection of D and Second streets.
Several members in the audience, such as Blaine businessowner Dale Schrader, wanted to know where traffic would logistically go in the event of a train line-up or border back-up. Schrader said he had concerns that the circular median in the roundabout would eliminate one lane that is currently used by motorists to circumvent long traffic backups.
“Right now, there’s enough road width for traffic to go north along Peace Portal Drive and D Street,” he said. “But if you put the roundabout in there the traffic is going to get completely snarled.”
Blaine resident Mary Lee Hill, who owns Pastime Bar downtown agreed.
“I think roundabouts are great in a perfect world, but Blaine has always been exception to the rule,” she said. “There is also the fact the border is often closed in emergencies and sometimes we aren’t always told ahead of time.”
Dina Swires, a DOT traffic engineer, said she didn’t see much a difference between a traffic back-up in a roundabout and one in a signal-controlled intersection, except that a signalized intersection adds further disruption to traffic flow.
“We did incorporate the railroad crossing and train movements, and our modeling shows it would operate safely,” she said. “Traffic is a lot like water. People figure it out and find the path of least resistance.”
DOT project engineer Todd Harrison added: “The one difference is that with a roundabout, people can choose to continue on safely and take a different trip whereas with the signal, the lights are activated and traffic is stopped.”
Former Blaine mayor Alma Wagner said she liked the idea of roundabouts but wondered if DOT project engineers had given much thought to adding signals for when traffic exceeded the capacity.
Swires said according to population projections for Blaine and traffic studies conducted by DOT, signals would not be necessary at this time. “Our model even with a large growth projections is not necessary because your volumes aren't there yet,” Swires said. “We are only obligated to meet a 20-year design life.”
Construction is planned to begin in spring of 2010, just after the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. They are expected to be completed by late that fall.