Roundabouts spread on the Iron Range

Back when Washington County stuck a roundabout in Woodbury — one of the first in Minnesota — there was the usual caterwauling about something different. In the years since, the traffic has been much more manageable than when a four-way stop backed up traffic during rush hour.

Now, roundabouts are spreading north and some people are none too happy about it.

MnDOT is about to start a $2.85 million project to replace signals at the intersection of U.S. Highway 169 and Minnesota Highway 37 in Hibbing. Four lanes of divided highway converge in a jumble now.

It’s taken a lot of convincing to get people on board, the Duluth News Tribune reports. People like the jumble they know over the roundabout they don’t, as comments to a Facebook post explaining the project recently showed.

“They’re only good when everybody doesn’t have the mentality that ‘I was here first so I get to go.’ When everyone thinks that you have 4 cars all going at the same time and the only one that makes it out without a fender bender is the one with a luck to squeak through first before the collision hits lol.”

“Just what Hibbing needs more confusion.”

“Looks like it has bridges over the frontage roads. Seems like such overkill for what’s really needed there. Just fix the pot holes!”

“Do you really believe the people of Hibbing want this ? The mayor is the only one I believe because he says it’s free.

If you want to bring roundabouts to the masses, you have to put a lot of work into addressing the fear people have about them.

That’s where the city folks come in.

(Video link)

The News Tribune says people “up north” are finally warming to the idea.

Hibbing has Ron Wirkkula to thank for its citizens warming to the idea of a roundabout. Wirkkula is the president of Hibbing Public Access Television. He went about assuaging public concerns by frequently airing public-service programming on how to use roundabouts, and taping and airing discussions with MnDOT experts as they addressed the project and local concerns.

“Some people are scared to death, but some of us are looking forward to it — and I’m one of them,” Wirkkula said. “It’s a bad, worn-out intersection. A lot of times there’s huge semi-trailer trucks hauling (to the mines). They’ve had to design for extra-big trailers. They have a plan and it’s kind of neat.”

Wirkkula said he expects to film a first-person video of himself driving the roundabout upon its completion, so that he can air it as an instructional video.

Moose Lake and Hermantown are also scheduled to get roundabouts this year.

More transportation: What Happened to the Bike? The Lack of Diversity on the Midtown Greenway (