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School around the corner: While work remains on Division Street, roundabouts open in time for school

New roundabouts that access Bemidji High School, Adams Avenue, Becida Road and the new Gene Dillon Elementary School opened to traffic on Friday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Traffic has reopened along Division Street near the campuses of two Bemidji schools -- and with some new roundabouts in play, officials are hoping vehicles are able to move through smoothly.

After several weeks of work, the corridor reopened to traffic Friday evening with three recently completed roundabouts. While the project isn’t fully complete, the road is usable as the first day of school approaches Tuesday.

“We will have it open for school, but traffic will still have to deal with the work zone,” Beltrami County Engineer Bruce Hasbargen said. “Paving, striping, topsoil and seeding, there will be a lot of that work remaining. There are those little things that follow the main work, so it could still be a couple weeks before it’s all finished.”

The street has averaged about 4,300 cars on a daily basis, according to Hasbargen. With Gene Dillon Elementary opening Tuesday, traffic is expected to increase by roughly 700 cars.

“We’re not only going to have the high school traffic, but also the traffic proceeding to Gene Dillon,” Bemidji High School Principal Jason Stanoch said. “So, we’ve worked with the Bemidji Police Department to have an officer there to assist our school resource officer. Also, myself and one of the assistant principals will be out there to provide some oversight, helping to direct kids into the parking lot.”

With the three roundabouts now finished, there are a total of four along Division Street. The most recent project, costing just under $3 million, added roundabouts to the intersection of Adams Avenue, the entrance of Bemidji High School and one that connects the entrance of Gene Dillon Elementary to Becida Road.

The other roundabout in the area was added at the intersection of Division Street and Jefferson Avenue at a cost of roughly $1 million.

For both projects, the state of Minnesota contributed $1 million, the city of Bemidji contributed $236,000 and Bemidji Area Schools provided $1.1 million. The city’s contribution was mainly used last year as the work was largely inside the city limits. The contribution from the school district was split for the two projects.

The push for roundabouts locally and across the state is based on reduced crash numbers compared to regular intersections. Data compiled by the Minnesota Department of Transportation has shown accidents at roundabouts are less likely to be head-on or at a right angle. As a result, if there are collisions, they are often fender benders rather than the T-bone accidents.

“Even if everything was completed, there’s some learning to do with driving through it. It’s something new for everyone in our community,” Stanoch said. “I think when people come here Tuesday, they just need to watch the flow of traffic and take it slow. We’ll make sure everyone gets in and out safely.”

“With the roundabouts open to traffic, the hope is that it will smoothly handle traffic,” Hasbargen said. “We’d like to see people travel slower and more cautiously.”

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

(218) 333-9791
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