There used to be a stoplight here

by Tom Coombe

Motorists may have noticed more than the ongoing construction when driving up or down Sheridan Street this week.<BR><BR>Now, there's a noticeable void at the corner of Sheridan Street and First Avenue East.<BR><BR>A traffic signal that's been in place at the downtown intersection for decades, but covered for the last two months, is now gone completely.<BR><BR>State transportation officials decided that traffic counts don't justify keeping the stoplight and the current Sheridan Street/Highway 169 improvements provided a prime opportunity to remove it.<BR><BR>"The signal is gone," said Robert Ege, district traffic engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.<BR><BR>After speaking with city officials in late-June, MnDOT continued to review traffic patterns at the intersection through July and into early-August, but Ege said the review found "nothing that would have changed our mind."<BR><BR>"Both the July and August traffic counts showed that that it didn't meet traffic warrants for a signal," said Ege. "We did see a spike in both traffic and pedestrians on the July 4 weekend and Blueberry Festival weekend."<BR><BR>While the traffic signal has been removed and First Avenue traffic from both the north and south is controlled by a stop sign, there could be further traffic control in the works at the intersection - but not a full traffic signal.<BR><BR>Ege said he hopes to meet with city officials, probably in September, to talk about potential signs or "a type of device that would alert motorists that there are pedestrians."<BR><BR>"I am concerned about the pedestrian crossing," said Ege.<BR><BR>While city council members have taken no formal position on the proposal by MnDOT to remove one of the city's three stoplights, the proposal has caused some unrest in city government and in the community.<BR><BR>Both safety concerns and the impact that the move might have on the downtown economy have been cited.<BR><BR>But MnDOT studied the intersection for two months, conducting a video review of the intersection during several timeframes each day.<BR><BR>The developments are the latest in a process that has caused a stir in some city circles since late-2012, when MnDOT officials said traffic counts don't justify retaining the traffic signal at First and Sheridan.<BR><BR>At the time, there was also talk of perhaps removing the stoplight at the corner of Sheridan and Third Avenue East, but MnDOT has since backed away and Ege said Thursday that Ely's other two traffic signals - at Third and at Central - will remain.