MOORHEAD - Minnesota's nearly 200 roundabouts are cutting down on serious injuries and fatalities at intersections around the state, including one intersection south of Moorhead that in the past was the scene of deadly crashes.
That's the conclusion of a newly released Minnesota Department of Transportation report that found an 86-percent reduction in serious crashes for intersections where roundabouts are put in place.
The report also found roundabouts have reduced right-angle crash rates by 69 percent.
And since roundabouts have been set up, not one multi-vehicle fatality has occurred at such intersections, according to the report.
In late 2011, a roundabout opened at U.S. Highway 75 and 60th Avenue south of Moorhead.
From 2012 through 2015, the intersection saw 10 crashes. Eight of the crashes involved property damage only and two involved minor injuries, according to the MnDOT report, which said 10.9 million vehicles used the roundabout during that time period.
In contrast, in the seven years from 2004 to 2010, the intersection saw nine crashes, two of which involved fatalities. One of the crashes involved moderate injuries, two involved minor injuries and four were property-damage crashes.
During that seven-year time period, 13.6 million vehicles passed through that intersection on Highway 75.
"They (roundabouts) process a lot of cars and they're just very safe," said Tom Swenson, district traffic engineer for MnDOT.
Prior to the roundabout getting built south of Moorhead, there was a large amount of concern expressed by farmers who drive large machines. However, once the new intersection went in, there was little to no negative feedback, according to Swenson.
Swenson acknowledged that roundabouts can pose a challenge for large vehicles like trucks, but he said traffic circles are designed to allow big vehicles to cross the boundaries of the roundabout, if necessary.
To that end, Swenson said, edge heights have dropped from five inches to four inches for newer roundabouts.
"They're certainly traversable. They're designed to be," Swenson said.
Eric Butery, terminal manager for Midwest Motor Express in Fargo, said he doesn't hear many complaints from company drivers when it comes to roundabouts.
The important thing, he said, is that they don't seem to pose a danger to drivers.
"We haven't had any safety incidents," Butery said.
He said roundabouts in this region appear to be placed in spots that are appropriate, adding that putting them in a dense urban setting might result in long wait times for entering an intersection.
Swenson, who works out of Detroit Lakes, said the 12-county district his office handles oversees four roundabouts - the one south of Moorhead; two near Detroit Lakes and one near Alexandria.
One of the roundabouts near Detroit Lakes has been in place for four We Fest weekends and, so far, there have been no two-vehicle accidents at that location, according to Swenson.
He said in the case of the roundabout south of Moorhead, traffic numbers keep going up but serious crashes remain sparse.
Swenson said traffic numbers at that location had been around 4,000 vehicles a day just a few years ago and now the number is closer to 7,000 vehicles per day.
The MnDOT report also mentions two roundabouts in the city of Moorhead, one at 24th Avenue and 40th Street South and one at 28th Avenue and 36th Street/40th Street south.
The study said no crashes were recorded at the 24th Avenue roundabout between 2007 and 2015 and no crashes were recorded at the 28th Avenue roundabout between 2013 and 2015.