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Roundabout proposed for M-32, Bagley Street intersection

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz The intersection of M-32 and Bagley Street in Alpena is one of the busiest in Northeast Michigan. The Michigan Department of Transportation is considering doing away with the traffic signal and building a roundabout to slow traffic down and prevent serious crashes.

ALPENA — The intersection of M-32 and Bagley Street is one of the most congested in Alpena, but a new plan by the Michigan Department of Transportation hopes to relieve some of the traffic pressure by building a roundabout.

The state included the $2 million project in its updated Transportation Program plan, which lists projects the state intends to undertake in the next five years. Like a municipal capital improvement plan, the plan can be amended with proposed projects pushed back, pushed up or canceled altogether.

The plan indicates that the roundabout is scheduled for construction in 2026 and would be the first one on a Northeast Michigan state highway.

“Right now this is nothing more than a placeholder in our budget,” We’ve done some analysis and right now the preferred method is a roundabout. That doesn’t mean the analysis won’t change in the years leading up to 2026,” Michigan Department of Transportation Communications Representative James Lake said. “We may learn it’s not needed, but at this time, we expect it will.”

Roundabouts are circular intersections rather than typical cross intersections. Their unique features can improve the flow of traffic and help prevent some of the deadliest types of car crashes, including head-on collisions and T-bone crashes.

Studies show roundabouts are a safer alternative to conventional intersections, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

About 25% of all traffic deaths in the U.S. happen at intersections, according to the FHA. The FHA reports roundabouts reduce injury and fatal crashes by as much as 82% compared to conventional intersections.

Lake said the state has been gathering analisis from the intersection and — at least for now — a roundabout will slow traffic and reduce violent collisions. He said if it is built, there may be a few more accidents initially, but they will be minor in comparison to the ones that occur at a higher rate of speed.

“It is all about improved safety and preventing horrible crashes,” Lake said. “People may be a little uncomfortable and anxious at first using it, but that causes them to slow down and be more alert, which is what we want.”

Lake said if the roundabout is built, it will be the first in Northeast Michigan. Other communities on the west side of the state and places in the Upper Peninsula are beginning to have them added to their road systems and showing positive results, Lake said.

Michigan State Police Sgt. Rich Tucker said the intersection is the busiest in Alpena and with the congestion, more accidents occur. He said often accidents happen because drivers have forgotten basic traffic laws, which result in collisions.

Tucker said roundabouts could help prevent people from turning out into the wrong lane, and force them to slow down, or it could cause more confusion and add to the problems at the intersection.

He said when other changes were made to traffic lights in the area, it caused some confusion and crashes, but eventually drivers adjusted to the changes.

“It would be something new and people would have to get used to it,” Tucker said. “It could make things better because basically you have to wait your turn to enter it, but it could make things worse because of confusion.”

When news about the plan for a roundabout in Alpena broke earlier this week, opposition to it quickly spread on social media. One Facebook post had more than 1,000 comments, most objecting to the change.

Lake said a similar resistance was experienced when one was built on M-72 near Traverse City. He said other roundabouts are planned for the Traverse City area, and so far there has been less blowback.

“There is less public backlash for sure,” Lake said. “In fact we are getting more positive comments.”

Lake hopes people in Alpena will be open to the idea and understand its benefits for public safety.

The public will have an opportunity to share thoughts and concerns about the project with the state, Lake said. He said public comment on the project can be made at michigan.gov/MDOT5YearProgram.

Because the project is years away, Lake said final design plans aren’t made yet, and won’t be until a few years before it is slated to start in 2026. He said before then, more analyses will be done in the coming year, and traffic patterns could change and the roundabout may not be needed.

Traffic numbers, crashes, and injuries could also increase, reinforcing the need for change, Lake said.

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