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State bill promises straight talk on roundabouts

Roundabouts such as this one at Highway 61 and Jamaica Avenue in Cottage Grove, Minn., are unpopular with Minnesota truck drivers. A new bill would require the state's transportation commissioner to develop specifications or standards that "include consideration of the suitability of roundabout design for commercial motor vehicles." (Photo by Bill Klotz)

Roundabouts such as this one at Highway 61 and Jamaica Avenue in Cottage Grove, Minn., are unpopular with Minnesota truck drivers. A new bill would require the state's transportation commissioner to develop specifications or standards that "include consideration of the suitability of roundabout design for commercial motor vehicles." (Photo by Bill Klotz)

By Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — Roundabouts are becoming increasingly common on Minnesota roadways, but they’re not exactly popular with truckers who drive big rigs with big loads.

In fact, some truckers say, the circular intersections are difficult if not impossible to navigate when the truck is carrying an oversize load. At best, it’s an inconvenience that sometimes forces truckers to take a longer route in order to avoid the roundabout.

It’s a situation that can “all of a sudden force you to travel dramatically different routes,” said John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association.

“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” he added. But “if that straight line has a roundabout, you may drive in a triangle.”

Those concerns are the inspiration for a bill that would require the state’s transportation commissioner to develop specifications or standards that “include consideration of the suitability of roundabout design for commercial motor vehicles.”

Such standards, to be included in the next update of design and highway construction manuals, would include input from the Minnesota Trucking Association, and people who “regularly obtain” oversize or overweight trucking permits and are “reasonably likely to travel on routes that would include a roundabout.”

Rep. Ron Shimanski, R-Silver Lake, said he introduced the bill based on “multiple concerns.”

For example, he said, MnDOT installed a roundabout on Highway 15 in Hutchinson that has been problematic for trucks carrying wind turbine parts from Duluth. Some of those loads are 140 feet long.

In one case, he said, one of those trucks “got to the roundabout and found out they could not negotiate the tight radius of the roundabout and ended up driving over the top and knocking down signs.

“If you have an oversize load, you can’t just back up and turn around.”

Erik Rudeen, project specialist with MnDOT’s government affairs staff, said the department is OK with the bill. He added that MnDOT is willing to discuss roundabout designs with truckers and anyone else who wants to talk about design standards.

Shimanski’s bill has cleared several hurdles in the House, and he hopes it will soon get a vote on the House floor and make its way to the governor’s desk.

Rep. Michael Jungbauer, R-East Bethel, is carrying a companion bill in the Senate.

There have been some incidents where over-dimension vehicles have had trouble with roundabouts, although it may not always be a design issue, Rudeen said.

For example, some trucks have tipped over inside a roundabout, “and in those cases we think it’s more that trucks are not slowing down enough,” he said. “That may be something that we need to educate the industry on “how to safely navigate roundabouts.”

The bill’s language cites the Minnesota Trucking Association, which supports the measure but wasn’t involved in putting the legislation together.

Association president Hausladen said most roundabouts are designed to accommodate regular 18-wheelers, but it’s a different story when the vehicle is carrying an “over-dimension” load such as a wind turbine blade.

“Those sorts of loads can only travel on certain routes for a variety of reasons, including bridge limitations,” he said. “The problem is, they don’t necessarily account for those over-dimension loads when they have been building these roundabouts.

“There may be other sectors who we don’t represent — like mobile home manufacturers or special equipment manufacturers — that have some similar issues.”

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