Update: City officials have scrapped the roundabout plan for 50th and Underwood. A revamped intersection plan, revealed Tuesday, will use traffic lights as part of a $2.5 million project that will also include brick pavers, benches and landscaping.
* * * * *
The prospect of placing a traffic roundabout at Dundee's main intersection has become controversial enough to reach the highest levels of city government.
A multimillion dollar Dundee facelift includes three traffic control options at the 50th Street and Underwood Avenue intersection: a four-way stop sign, the current traffic light configuration or a circular roadway known as a roundabout.
As word of a potential roundabout spread, attention quickly shifted from other facets of a merchant-led, $2.5 million plan to increase parking and improve sidewalks with brick pavers, benches and landscaping.
City engineers and consultants have coalesced behind the roundabout option as a safe and pedestrian-friendly way to manage an intersection that sees roughly 13,000 cars a day.
“It's a very friendly type of control for something like this,” said Todd Pfitzer, city engineer.
But many neighborhood residents, merchants and elected representatives say a roundabout would harm Dundee's neighborhood feel and blight the face of one of Omaha's most popular historic districts.
“It's not just about moving cars,” City Councilman Pete Festersen said. “We need to listen to the neighborhood and the merchants, and put a lot of weight into their opinions. A major aspect of this project is to improve the pedestrian environment and maintain the character of a unique and historic business district.”
Mayor Jim Suttle will meet with Festersen and public works officials today in an effort to resolve the impasse this week.
Dundee merchants originally sought to abandon traffic lights at the intersection in favor of a four-way stop sign. That concept was initially endorsed by the city's Urban Design Review Board, Planning Board and City Council.
But the Snyder & Associates engineering firm conducted a traffic study to determine how each traffic control option would affect the area, Pfitzer said, and concluded that stop signs would slow traffic flow to an unacceptable rate.
“There's just too many things going on for a four-way stop to be pedestrian-friendly,” he said.
Traffic signals allow traffic to move acceptably, consultants said, but tend to encourage higher vehicle speeds and can delay pedestrian movement. Thirty-two traffic accidents have occurred in the area during the past four years, Pfitzer said.
“That is not a matter of opinion, that is simply fact,” he said.
The roundabout concept emerged as a potential solution that could keep pedestrians farther away from vehicles, slow traffic and still provide a neighborhood gathering place, Pfitzer said.
“But the people of Dundee are very concerned about preserving Dundee,” he said.
Bob Peters, a former Omaha planning director and a member of the city's urban design board, said the roundabout option “came in from left field.”
Last week, the board reiterated its support for a “traditional” intersection that would include a stop light or stop signs, he said.
Peters said the project “needs to be respectful of the traditions that have made Dundee such a rich and vibrant place to live.”
The Dundee project would remove trees to build new angled parking spots along portions of Underwood Avenue and 50th Street. A stoplight and pedestrian crossing at 51st Street and Underwood Avenue probably would stay.
The city earmarked $550,000 in transportation bonds for the project — $50,000 for engineering costs and $500,000 to support construction. The rest is coming from private donations and grants.
With that level of private support, Dundee business leader Molly Romero said, the city should get behind the stop sign or traffic signal options.
“I don't know that we have to find middle ground,” said Romero, co-owner of Marks Bistro and an officer in the Dundee Merchants Association. “I think we can ask the engineers to defer to the vision of the merchants who raised 75 percent of the money ... provided they can do so without abandoning any of their considerations for safety.”
Construction is projected to begin in April, weather-permitting, with completion expected in August.
Contact the writer: