MnDOT drops plan for controversial Duluth roundabout

An aerial view of a road intersection.
The intersection of 60th Avenue East and London Road as seen on March 11 in Duluth. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has dropped plans for a roundabout at the intersection.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has dropped plans for a controversial roundabout in Duluth near the shore of Lake Superior, following months of outcry from local residents.

The agency had planned to construct three roundabouts along a 3.5-mile stretch of London Road — also known as Highway 61. The first roundabout is planned for 26th Avenue East, where I-35 ends; the second at 40th Avenue; and the third at 60th Avenue East, just before the road crosses the Lester River and exits Duluth up the North Shore.

Now MnDOT says it is scrapping plans for that final roundabout.

“In order to stay on schedule to deliver the project as planned,” the agency explained in a news release, “the proposed roundabout at 60th Avenue East has been dropped from the scope of work, and other safety improvements will be made to the intersection.”

Roundabouts have become an increasingly common addition to road projects across the state in recent years. There are about 450 roundabouts across Minnesota—that’s the fourth most per capita in the country.

Many traffic engineers advocate for them because they reduce serious crashes. And while residents often push back against them, public acceptance tends to increase as drivers get used to them.

MnDOT originally had not planned to build a roundabout at 60th Ave. E. and London Road in Duluth. It added it after hearing from residents who complained about unsafe pedestrian crossing and the difficulty turning left onto London Road.

Engineers argued a roundabout would make crossing the street safer by slowing down traffic. It also allows people to only have to cross one lane of traffic at a time, with a refuge island in-between.

But neighbors who live near the intersection fought back. They argued for smaller-scale solutions to increase pedestrian safety. And they contended a roundabout would increase light pollution, cut into a city park, and require a duplex on the corner to be razed.

“We didn't want this giant disc of outsized concrete to take the place of our neighbors’ and friends’ home. We didn't want to totally change the scale of the landscape out here in a very historic neighborhood,” said Ann Klefstad, member of the group Preserve the Gateway, which gathered more than 1,000 signatures from people opposed to the project.

A woman stands next to a road intersection
Duluthian Elizabeth Johnson lives at the corner of 60th Avenue East and London Road in a home that MnDOT had planned to raze to make way for a new roundabout.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Elizabeth Johnson, who owns the home that was slated to be torn down and lives on the first floor with her husband Travis, said it’s been a year of stress since they first received a letter from MnDOT “saying they were for sure taking our house.”

Now, she said, she feels “extreme joy and relief and gratitude for my neighbors who've worked so hard. It was truly a group effort and we held each other up, and got enough people at different levels of the city and state to advocate for us.”

MnDOT needed to get consent from the Duluth City Council to build the roundabout at 60th Ave. E., because the agency required a permanent right of way for stormwater filtration at the intersection, Mayfield said.

Now, MnDOT said it has rescinded its request for municipal consent.

But Mayfield said the agency still supports a roundabout at the intersection.

“We have studied that intersection. And so we have kept all the analysis that we have done for the intersection, and there's no telling what the future holds. So maybe there will be a potential project in the future that it will be a part of,” she said.

Residents say they’ll remain vigilant. But for now, Elizabeth Johnson said she’s happy, and relieved.

“Who knows what they'll want to do in the future, but I'm still celebrating. MnDOT has not been in touch with me. There's a chance they'll need some of my property, but I'm hoping they for sure won't need the house.”

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