Roundabout in Alpena is still a possibility
ALPENA — Whether the Michigan Department of Transportation will construct a roundabout at the intersection of M-32 and Bagley Street remains up in the air, state officials say.
No matter what course MDOT takes, there could be large-scale changes beginning in 2026 to the highly congested intersection, which produces some serious crashes.
In 2021, 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.
James Lake, MDOT north region communications specialist, said a roundabout is being considered, but MDOT could perform alternate modifications. He said the state aims to slow drivers down in the vicinity of the intersection, loosen congestion, and improve safety.
A decision on what direction MDOT will take likely won’t be known until closer to groundbreaking.
“It was the preferred option, but that doesn’t mean there will be a roundabout,” Lake said. “There could be improvements of a different type. Right now, what the project will look like in full is hard to say.”
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 analysis from the intersection and — at least for now — predicts a roundabout would slow traffic and reduce violent collisions. He said that, if MDOT builds a roundabout, 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.
“We want to make the improvements to improve safety and to make sure motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists can move through that area as smoothly and safely as possible,” he said. “A roundabout does prevent the worst type of accidents like T-bone crashes, head-on collisions, and bad angle wrecks.”
As new development takes place on the M-32 corridor, the state could have new traffic data to review before making a final decision on the project. A new Marshalls department store is being constructed near the intersection and a new hotel will be built less than a mile from the traffic light. Developers looking to build a new Aldi grocery store are still showing interest in M-32.
Recently, a Starbucks and urgent care opened, which shows that area of Alpena remains a popular place to open a business.
“New and future development is something we consider whenever we plan a project,” Lake said.
When MDOT announced in 2021 that it was considering building a roundabout in Alpena, the news was met with some anger and concern. Some people on social media said they would refuse to use it and shop at other stores and restaurants not located on M-32.
Lake said that, as more details about the project come to light, there will be public meetings to discuss the plans. He said the furor is not uncommon, but, he said, many people are becoming less resistant to the idea of a roundabout because they use them more frequently in other communities and are learning the benefits of them.
“We are seeing an increased familiarization of roundabouts and reaction to the data about them,” he said. “More people are supportive of them than in the past.”
The MDOT website outlines several reasons why roundabouts are becoming a preferred method of traffic control in Michigan.
It says they reduce congestion and pollution because the use of yield signs instead of stop signs or traffic signals allows vehicles to enter the roundabout when there are adequate gaps in the traffic flow. That reduces the number of vehicles that have to stop and the time vehicles are stopped. Fewer stops and hard accelerations, as well as less time idling, means less pollution. That also reduces delays and increases the capacity of the intersection.
MDOT also says roundabouts save money because they reduce long-term operational and maintenance costs associated with traditional signalized intersections. There are no traffic signals to power and maintain, which can amount to cost savings each year. Finally, the state says roundabouts provide more green space and landscape architecture than most typical intersections.
For more information on roundabouts and how to use them, visit michigan.gov/mdot and click on the “roundabout” tab.