As part of the new Hobart-Carl Smith Drive in Hillsboro, many motorists will have their first local experience with a “roundabout,” an innovative intersection used in many communities across the country, but one which is often greeted with trepidation until people grow accustomed to using it.
“They’re easy to use,” said Dean Otworth, Highland County engineer. “Once people do it and kind of overcome their fear, it’s very easy to use.” The roundabout will be located where the new road intersects with the improved Careytown Road.
Rather than a traditional four-way stop or an intersection governed by a stoplight, roundabouts allow for continuous circular traffic flows where two streets intersect.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, “Roundabouts reduce traffic conflicts (for example, left turns) that are frequent causes of crashes at traditional intersections. Unlike a traffic circle or a rotary, a roundabout’s incoming traffic yields to the circulating traffic.”
The FHA website provides numerous examples of roundabouts implemented in several states and the benefits to which local officials and motorists attest. For example, Missouri’s first roundabout, installed about 10 years ago, brought criticisms and questions similar to some that have been raised locally.
“Trying to convince the local community that a roundabout would work was difficult,” according to the report. “Many people confused modern roundabouts with European-style traffic circles, and assumed they were hard to navigate, and intimidating to drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists alike.”
But the public later realized the benefits of roundabouts. “Older drivers have also been convinced,” according to the report. “A senior citizen approached a MoDOT official at a local town council meeting to admit that he had been skeptical of the roundabouts when they were first proposed, but a year after their completion he had come to realize that they were ‘the right thing to do.’”
One myth about roundabouts is that large trucks cannot navigate them. In Lincoln, Neb., the city’s public works department addressed that issue, stating, “Roundabouts are designed to accommodate large trucks. However large trucks do need more space when driving in a roundabout. A ‘truck apron’ on the edge of the center island in a roundabout, usually defined by colored concrete, allows large trucks and trucks with trailers to maneuver through a roundabout by allowing the wheels of the truck or trailer to roll onto the truck apron.”
Otworth said the truck apron is a feature of Hillsboro’s new roundabout, although whether it would include colored concrete had not yet been decided.
A New York Times article last month quoted Richard Retting, a former transportation researcher at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, as saying that roundabouts were first built in the United States in the early 1990s, and have doubled in the last decade to around 5,000 today.
“There are hundreds if not thousands more in the planning stages,” said Retting.
The article stated, “Unlike standard intersections, drivers cannot speed across a street and hit a vehicle in the perpendicular lane; instead, they must slow and merge with others in the circle. Left turns in front of oncoming traffic are eliminated. And because vehicles never come to a complete stop, less fuel is consumed.”
Roundabouts are also cheaper to build and maintain. “It can run upward of $200,000 to install the signal and the sensors in the road for traffic lights that are part of a connected grid. Then there is the upkeep,” the Times reported.
Otworth said Tuesday that motorists should treat roundabouts like four-way stops, but instead of stopping at stop signs, they are slowing down and observing yield signs, always turning right, looking left, and deciding when they are comfortable merging onto the circle to continue their course onto the next road.
Those interested in learning more can go to www.highlandcountyeng.org and click on “projects,” then click on “current projects” to find a video about roundabouts. The video says roundabouts, compared to traditional intersections, result in a 90-percent reduction in fatalities, a 76-percent reduction in injuries and a 35-percent reduction in all crashes.
Otworth said Tuesday that while work is still progressing rapidly, the new road is not yet open to traffic. However, a short stretch of Careytown Road has now been opened near Lowe’s to allow better access to the home supply store and the neighboring strip mall.
Otworth met Tuesday with Ohio Department of Transportation officials regarding signals at each end of the new road. He said that ODOT officials are starting out with a flashing light where the road intersects with SR 73, and a standard traffic signal where it intersects with U.S. 62. But he said the signals will be reevaluated after the road is opened to traffic, and it’s possible that a standard signal will replace the flashing light on 73.
He said more landscaping, signage and painting decisions are being made for the road and the roundabout intersection, but most of the road might be open by the end of August or the first part of September, nearly a year ahead of schedule.
Then, while traffic will still be permitted to enter Hobart Drive from U.S. 62, it will be required to exit from Southern State Community College and other locations by traveling west toward the new roundabout until work is finished on Hobart near its U.S. 62 intersection, after which traffic will again flow in both directions.
“I’m excited about it,” said Otworth.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.