Minden OKs roundabout access

Minden Town Board members narrowly approved access Wednesday that paves the way for a controversial roundabout at the intersection of County Road and Highway 88.

By a 3-2 vote, the board granted approval for the state Department of Transportation to begin work on Mahogany Drive.

The approval by the town board ended 10 years of debate over the busy intersection which provides access to Douglas High School, the Carson Valley Swim Center, East Fork Fire & Paramedic Districts station, the library, a Montessori school, a church, fitness center and several offices buildings.

Chairman Ross Chichester, vice chair Bruce Jacobsen and member Bob Hadfield supported the motion. Members Dave Sheets and Ray Wilson opposed the state's plans for the $500,000 traffic calming device.

The state has held 10 neighborhood meetings and a session last week attended by about 100 people.

"I have been adamantly opposed," Hadfield said. "But every resident where I live in Mackland and those who have attended the smaller community meetings indicated they support the roundabout.

"The biggest thing I heard is that what's there now is not safe. Pedestrians will be safer. Will it work all the time? No. Will there be any accidents? Yes, but not at 45-50 miles per hour."

Dave Sheets said he couldn't support the roundabout for several reasons.

"I don't know if I can subscribe to something that is 'better than nothing,'" he said.

Sheets said he'd never seen finalized plans and was concerned about access for emergency vehicles.

The intersection is now controlled by stop signs on County Road and Mahogany Drive.

Sheets also said he was concerned about the impact on surrounding neighborhoods from motorists going out of their way to avoid the roundabout.

At first, Wilson said he "reluctantly supported" the roundabout, but changed his mind over who would pay for maintenance and upkeep.

The state has said the federal government will finance 95 percent of the project and the state will pay for the rest.

Droes said the town would be responsible for maintenance of Mahogany Drive as it is now.

About 10 people addressed the issues before the board vote.

Three Douglas High School students said they were concerned about safety because a roundabout had never been addressed in driver's education.

"I'm scared to death," said student Allison Hines. "When I heard we were getting a roundabout, I almost had a heart attack. I know I'll get hit. I know I'll hit somebody else."

Heidi Lengdorfer, who introduced herself as "one of those notorious Douglas High School drivers," said she agreed her classmates were inexperienced behind the wheel.

"How would we do the roundabout with people who can't drive in a straight line? How many people would have to die or get in an accident to make this change?" she asked.

Ashley Hennefer said she was concerned students wouldn't have time to learn how to navigate the roundabout before school resumes in August.

The state has said work would begin after school is dismissed in June and should be complete before students return in August.

"No one has asked our opinion and we're the ones who drive it," Hennefer said. "I don't want there to be more accidents. That would just defeat the purpose."

Droes said the state would offer a safety program.

"We'll work with the high school on how to properly drive it," Droes said.

Minden residents Jim and Sharla Hales, who hosted a roundabout presentation for their Westwood neighbors, said the state had changed their minds.

"Real traffic experts tell us safety would be enhanced by the roundabout more than a traffic light, more than a stop sign," Sharla Hales said. "Waiting is not an option. The intersection is not safe."

Jim Hales said five years ago, he was opposed.

"I said, 'Let's put the brakes on the project.' I've changed my mind. It's a pretty darn good option," Hales said. "There is no personal gain to them. As for backup, that's what a stoplight's going to do. It's already backed up."

Droes repeated the state's pledge to monitor the roundabout and remove or modify it if the device doesn't work.

"We'll be back to fix it," Droes said. "The department can't live with traffic backed up to the California line."


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