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Kalispell mulls roundabout for E. Oregon Street

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | October 13, 2021 12:00 AM

The Kalispell Public Works Department is eyeing the intersection of Second Avenue East North and East Oregon Street for a new roundabout.

City staff went over the idea during a work session with the Kalispell City Council on Monday.

Representatives from Public Works explained their process for implementing “traffic calming” strategies based on the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

City Engineer Keith Haskins reported the East Oregon corridor between U.S. 93 and Whitefish Stage Road has become an area of top concern for speeding since 2016.

Haskins said Public Works reviewed crash data from the Montana Department of Transportation and studied traffic patterns on East Oregon Street for a one-week period.

Based on those investigations, Haskins said speeding emerged as a documented issue on East Oregon Street.

However, the research did not indicate stop signs or speed limit signs would be warranted interventions, based on the FHA manual. The number of crashes at intersections on East Idaho Street was well below the minimum of 6,000 crashes required to trigger a stop-sign installation.

Instead, Public Works identified a traffic circle as an appropriate calming device. A traffic circle could be cost-effective and familiar to drivers, Haskins explained.

Public Works zeroed in on the intersection of Second Avenue East North and East Oregon Street.

Haskins said Public Works is considering a “mini roundabout,” with an inner and an outer circle. The inner circle would not be navigable, but the outer circle would be low enough that long vehicles could go up over the edge to get around the circle.

The simplest design would cost approximately $20,000, according to Haskins. The city doesn’t have a funding source, but Haskins said it could either be funded by pulling money from the city’s Streets Department or by establishing a special improvement district in the nearby neighborhood.

Haskins considered the potential project a “first and trial” roundabout that could pave the way for additional traffic circles elsewhere in the city.

“I think they [traffic circles] should be used purposefully and maybe not a lot,” Haskins said. “I think we really need to be careful when and where we install those. The installation of one traffic circle will become a precedent for more.”

Among the council members, there was some support for this sentiment — and some who were opposed to even the single roundabout proposal.

Sam Nunnally, Sid Daoud, Chad Graham and Mayor Mark Johnson all expressed concerns with roundabouts. Graham and Nunnally, in particular, explicitly opposed the idea of adding the proposed East Oregon Street roundabout.

Graham said he was worried about emergency vehicles navigating the traffic circle, and Nunnally didn’t want to create a residential situation like the one in Missoula. Nunnally called Missoula’s proliferation of roundabouts “horrible.”

Ryan Hunter and Kari Gabriel both voiced support for the traffic circle proposal. The council didn’t take any formal action on the proposal during the work session.

​​Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at 406-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.