by CESAR SALAZAR
Starting September 8, Winonans will be driving in circles in order to get to their destinations on Mankato Avenue, just not in the way they might expect. As construction on the east side of Mankato Avenue spins up, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and construction crews will restrict left turns off of Mankato Avenue in the construction zone through October.
The Mankato Avenue/Highway 43 roundabouts construction is about three-fourths of the way through the planned timetable. Beginning in April earlier this year, the roundabout project will replace the four intersections of Highway 61, Bruski Drive, Frontenac Drive, and Riverbend Drive on Mankato Avenue to reduce severe traffic accidents.
The next step in the project is to switch traffic from the east side of Mankato Avenue to the west side. Due to safety and traffic congestion concerns, MnDOT will restrict left turns along the corridor, according to MnDOT District Six Director of Public Engagement and Communications Mike Dougherty.
In the previous phase of the project, drivers looking to make left turns in the single-lane traffic would cause congestion issues while waiting for on-coming traffic to clear through, according to Dougherty. “Traffic does back up already there with those temporary signals still in place,” Dougherty said. “If traffic is waiting for one person to make a left turn, it would be really difficult. Then it's also kind of challenging the way the medians and the curb and stuff are being set up now for the roundabout.”
With the new restrictions in place, drivers wanting to make left turns on Mankato Avenue will have to do one of two things: Southbound drivers will have to make a U-turn at the Highway 61 roundabout to access businesses along the east side of Mankato Avenue, and northbound drivers will have to drive around the block to access Winona Health and other locations on the west.
According to Dougherty, only the traffic along two-thirds of Mankato Avenue will be shifted over to the west side of the road at first, and MnDOT plans to completely redirect traffic onto the west side in the upcoming weeks. “It's not fully complete, but it's complete enough that they can switch traffic over there,” he said of road work on the western side.
“We all agree that it is congested when you go through these construction zones,” Dougherty said. “Traffic's moving slow and not as fast as people want it to, but if they can follow the detours to make those left turns, that helps everybody and helps traffic flow better, and it's safer because that's what the workers expect,”
The left turn restriction might affect people trying to visit Winona Health. According to Dougherty, emergency vehicles wouldn’t have to abide by the left turn restrictions.
For regular people trying to access Winona Health, Winona Health Media Relations Coordinator Karen Sibenaller said, “... Left turns may not be an option during a short period. We want people to know that throughout the project, they can always count on being able to use the access point off Highway 61 near the Y. With changes happening frequently, it’s helpful to remember that you can always count on being able to enter our campus there.”
Dougherty also said signs that prohibit left turns are planned for the portion of the drive. He added that MnDOT has reached out to local businesses with instructions on how to acknowledge customer concerns about reaching their destinations. “It's a responsibility for everybody that goes through there because it keeps not only them safe, but it keeps everybody else safe,” he said.
Winona Area Ambulance Service Director of Operations Andy Teska said construction has not had any noticeable impact on response times for emergency crews. “They've been pretty good about informing us of things that might affect us and changes and if we need any additional assistance,” he said. “The construction company has been really good about working with us, to help us make sure we can get through to the areas that we need to get through. So I don't perceive this, at least, causing [the] ambulance service any real issues.”
Teska said that the ambulance service is given special access through the construction by construction crews if they need to access an area.
“It's taken a long time and people get frustrated because you just never know what's actually open and what’s closed, but we're getting close,” Teska said. “I think they're well on pace to have this open in a timely fashion. So we just have to continue to be patient and just continue to keep an eye [out] and take our time.”
Dougherty said that MnDOT plans to wrap up the majority of the construction later in November, with minor work such as cleanup and landscaping being completed in spring. For more info on the project and the upcoming changes, visit www.dot.state.mn.us/d6/projects/hwy43/.
“I think getting people to follow the driving rules and laws is very important,” Dougherty said about the new restrictions. “It's a responsibility for everybody that goes through there because it keeps not only them safe, but it keeps everybody else safe.”