OPINION

Rounding the corner in Marion

A sign indicating the roundabout at the intersection of Holiday Road and First Avenue at Coralville Monday, May 22, 2006. Roundabouts have slower speeds and reduced number of vehicle conflict points compared to conventional intersections.
A sign indicating the roundabout at the intersection of Holiday Road and First Avenue at Coralville Monday, May 22, 2006. Roundabouts have slower speeds and reduced number of vehicle conflict points compared to conventional intersections.

So I went to Marion City Hall Tuesday evening wondering whether anyone would throw a few more roundhouses at roundabouts.

The gathering was an open house to provide information on the mother of all Marion roundabouts, the one planned for the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street, in the middle of the city’s busiest street. “We didn’t know if we’d have two people here or 100,” said Michael Barkalow, assistant city engineer, who is point person on the project.

Turns out it was somewhere in between, with a couple dozen residents in attendance along with several city staff and elected officials. Barkalow asked the group how many came because they’re directly affected by the project, and many hands went up.

Then he asked how many showed up just because they’re concerned about roundabouts. Very few hands were raised.

Perhaps Marion has come to terms with its circular fate.

Anyone living in town during the last few years knows the word “roundabout” is loaded with baggage and angst. Folks who like city policies remaking Marion’s central corridor tend to rally ‘round the plan’s multiple roundabouts. Others skeptical or downright agitated by the aims of city leaders and Uptown development types see them as bull’s eye.

More than a few residents wonder how they’ll get around in a roundabout world. Many are like me, OK with roundabouts but wary of spending $2.9 million, not including property buyouts, to put one on Marion’s main drag.

Likely it’s inevitability that’s tamed the tumult. Like it or not, it’s happening.

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On Monday, a ceremony will mark the project’s start. Not long after that, the traffic signals at Seventh and Seventh will come down and the 120-day, seven-phase project begins. Officials hope we’ll be going in circles by Christmas. Only Iowa’s weather can stop it now.

One lane of traffic in each direction will be kept open on Seventh Avenue during construction, with the exception of some brief closures to reroute utilities. Getting around on adjacent streets may be difficult. The city has been assuring business owners that contractors will do all they can to keep entrances open, but, at times, it’s going to get complicated.

The blueprints may make perfect sense to engineers, but I felt as if I was gazing upon a Gordian knot.

“It’s going to become a little congested,” Barkalow said.

And yet, there wasn’t much grumbling. One man pointed out, correctly, that the project will make it impossible to travel west on Sixth Avenue past Seventh Street without nifty maneuvering. Officials say that’s because they want to keep increased traffic on Sixth Avenue through the commercial corridor from flowing into a residential neighborhood. Still, a headache for locals.

But I also spoke with Annette Perry, who, along with her husband Jack, bought property for development along the 800 block of Sixth Avenue near the roundabout because they see great potential in the project. “We wanted to participate in what Marion has been trying to become for the last 10 years,” she said.

Sure, plenty of angst remains. But I think most residents will come around eventually, or at least yield to reality.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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