Residents opposed to a proposed $679,000 roundabout at one of Springfield’s busiest intersections say it will cause problems for drivers, while supporters argue it will alleviate congestion and improve safety at the nearby shopping area.
The project at Bechtle Avenue and the St. Paris Connector would be the first true roundabout in Springfield. It’s been proposed as a way to reduce injury and fatal crashes and improve traffic flow and air quality.
Springfield city commissioners held a work session Tuesday night to discuss the roundabout with consultant American Structurepoint and City Engineer Leo Shanayda.
The consultants discussed safety improvements at the roundabout, which would include more room for semitrailers, small islands in the road requiring vehicles to slow down before entering the roundabout and yield lines.
The project would also reduce the number of places where drivers can get in accidents from nine with the traffic signal to six with a roundabout, said Frank Aransky, project development director for transportation at American Structurepoint. It also would lead to fewer T-bone crashes, he said.
Roundabouts have about 79 percent fewer accidents with injuries than regular intersections and 90 percent fewer fatalities, Aransky said, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.
“Just because you’re at a traffic signal doesn’t mean people are respecting that, especially today in the world of distracted driving,” he said.
City residents have said they believe the roundabout will confuse drivers and lead to more crashes. Bechtle Avenue could be with fixed with an access road between the busy shopping centers, Springfield resident Bob Hulsizer said.
“When they built that, nobody expected it was going to balloon like it did,” Hulsizer said.
The money cannot be used to build an access road, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said. He’s expected to make a recommendation on whether to build the roundabout to city commissioners in the coming weeks.
During a three-year period, there have been seven crashes — including one fatality and one injury — at the intersection.
Springfield resident Mike Lowe wore a sign that read “No Roundabout.” He presented city officials with a petition containing 1,125 signatures of people opposing the roundabout. It was signed by elected officials, law enforcement officers and average citizens, Lowe said.
“This petition represents all parts of the community of registered voters,” Lowe said. “These people elected you to represent them and feel their dissatisfaction with the roundabout problem is not being heard, their voices.”
The city and Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee first applied for Ohio Department of Transportation funding for the Bechtle Avenue roundabout in 2011, but it was rejected because of a lack of crashes at the intersection. A stop sign was initially placed there until a temporary traffic signal was installed in 2011 to reduce congestion.
ODOT approved the project last year and it will be paid for through federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Funds because it will reduce congestion, delays and the risk of crashes, according to city leaders. The project is at no cost to the city. If rejected, the money can be used for other CMAQ-eligible projects, but cannot be used to pave neighborhood streets.
If rejected locally, the developer of the shopping center north of Walmart — which includes the Hobby Lobby currently under construction — will have to pay for the installation of a permanent traffic signal. He’s already posted a $100,000 bond for the signal.
Bodenmiller supports the project and believes it will increase safety at the intersection. He didn’t like roundabouts at first, but said he’s grown to love them over the years.
“I hate sitting at stop lights, especially when there are no cars coming the other way,” he said. “This avoids all of that. I really do think, given a chance, it’s something people will eventually learn.”
The roundabout will reduce maintenance costs for the city, Aransky said. Industry experts say a traffic light typically costs about $4,000 per year to maintain, Bodenmiller said, a number he believes is a bit high.
Roundabout also continue to work when the power goes out, Aransky said.
Last year, city commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the $187,000 engineering contract to begin design work and a feasibility study on the traffic circle. Springfield City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill voted against the contract.
O’Neill said on Tuesday he’s not opposed to roundabouts in general, but believes this intersection isn’t a good location, especially with truck traffic increasing to support the nearby developments.
“There’s going to be a lot of semis right in this area and again, they’re all going to be using that roundabout,” O’Neill said. “Every one of them will have no choice.”
Local senior citizens are scared of driving in the proposed roundabout, City Commissioner Joyce Chilton said.
The consultants said a mock roundabout can be set up in a parking lot to educate drivers on how to navigate the traffic circle. Social media can be used as well, they said.
“A roundabout is all about being in the correct lane before you enter the roundabout,” Aransky said.
While traveling through Indiana, Springfield City Commissioner Karen Duncan said she drives through several roundabouts. She was scared at first, but said it becomes easier the more a person drives through them.
“The learning curve is going to be the biggest issue for us, if we go forward with this,” Duncan said.
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