Public weighs in on proposed Bechtle roundabout

About 100 people attended the open house at City Hall forum Monday evening to view the plans for the proposed roundabout at Bechtle Avenue and St. Paris Connector. Representatives from the city, Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee and consultant American Structurepoint were available to answer questions about the project.

City staffers are expected to bring the survey to review before city commissioners in January, which will include public input from the open house. The roundabout has not yet been approved by commissioners.

The project would be the first true roundabout in Springfield. It’s being developed to reduce injury and fatal traffic accidents and improve traffic flow and air quality, according to information released by the city. During a three-year period, there have been seven crashes — including one fatality and one injury — at the intersection, according to the city and the TCC. The roundabout is expected to reduce crashes by 71 percent and fatalities by 87 percent, according to a city fact sheet.

The Chamber of Greater Springfield supports the proposed roundabout, which they say would keep traffic moving, but would also allow people to turn around and head back to the Bechtle shopping area, said chamber President and CEO Mike McDorman. The chamber believes more roundabouts could be installed to help traffic flow smoother, including the intersections at Hillcrest and Bechtle avenues, Eagle City Road and Bechtle Avenue and at the traffic light near Walmart.

“We need to be looking for progressive opportunities to move traffic to retail corridors,” McDorman said. “It makes it easier for development to occur. It tells the developer that we’re progressive as a community.”

The roundabout will create significant traffic problems, including on the Connector from the new Hobby Lobby development, said Springfield resident Virginia Rolfes, who lives nearby on Home Road. She wants to see a permanent traffic light rather than a roundabout.

“People are not going to go slow getting down there,” Rolfes said. “Many times on Bechtle Avenue I’ve been pushed to go faster than 35 miles per hour. People just race going down there. People do respect traffic lights, but they don’t respect roundabouts.”

Springfield resident Mike Lowe wore a sign that read “No Roundabout.” He presented city officials with a petition containing an estimated 390 signatures of people opposed to the roundabout collected over the last five days, he said.

“In my opinion, that light works fine,” Lowe said.

The city and TCC first applied for ODOT funding for the Bechtle 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 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 officials. 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 will have to pay for the installation of a permanent traffic signal. He’s already posted a $100,000 bond for the signal.

Earlier this 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. Monday night, he took the blame for the traffic problems and said the city needs to step back and make sure it can accommodate traffic created by the new development, including semitrailers supplying those businesses.

“I’m not opposed to roundabouts as a new means to control traffic,” O’Neill said. “I’m not certain that’s the answer to that intersection down here and I don’t want to be responsible for one more mistake on Bechtle Avenue. I want it to be right.”

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