Deadly intersection will get roundabout

Clark County could get Ohio’s first high speed approach roundabout.

A first-of-its-kind roundabout might finally reduce crashes at Clark County’s deadliest intersection.

Officials have tried since the 1970s to reduce accidents at the Pike Twp. intersection of Ohio 235 and 41. The new plan is to build the first roundabout in Clark County and likely the first in the state where the speed limit is 55 mph on all four sides.

The Ohio Department of Transportation will host a meeting at 4 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Pike Twp. Fire Station to get public input about the construction of a high speed approach roundabout at the intersection, where there have been five fatalities since 1992, more than any other intersection countywide.

ODOT District 7 Traffic Engineer Craig Elay said the roundabout should reduce injury crashes and save lives.

“The roundabout will eliminate angle crashes and high-speed collisions. You’ll be forced to slow down at the intersection,” Elay said.

Construction of the $1.5 million project is expected to begin in 2014 and would be the latest attempt to make the intersection safer.

In the 1970s, ODOT reduced the size of a hill on the road; in 1980, officials placed rumble strips and dual stop ahead signs on the road; in the early 90s, red flashing lights on stop signs were installed; in 2000 a traffic light was installed and in 2011 back plates were put in place to help drivers see the traffic signal.

None of the changes worked.

In 1988, the intersection was listed by the Highway Safety Improvement Program as one of the most dangerous and ODOT has ranked it consistently as a high risk rural road.

Officials said the traffic signal helped reduce the overall crash totals from 45 between 1992 and 1999 to 39 total crashes from 2001-2010. But the signal had little impact on severe crashes.

ODOT and Clark County officials say most of the crashes can be blamed on driver inattention and driver error.

Officials say the roundabout can’t correct driver errors but can reduce conflict points at the intersection and T-bone crashes.

“There’s very little risk of right angle crashes,” Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee Director Scott Schmid said. “It’s correcting driver behavior where they will have to slow down.”

A 2009 study by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Science that injury crashes dropped 89 percent and fatal crashes were eliminated at 17 intersections with high-speed approaches (40-65 mph) after roundabouts were installed.

ODOT Planning and Engineering Administrator Matt Parrill said roundabouts have become more common nationwide and have been used to reduce congestion or accidents in intersections in Dublin, a Columbus suburb, Indianapolis and Kansas.

“A roundabout is a traffic calming device. You’re not delayed,” Parrill said. “It’s an innovative concept for America. A lot of states are moving forward with it.”

The decision to construct the roundabout came months after Carol Trissel, who lives near Ohio 235 and Ohio 41, told transportation officials at a public meeting that residents want improvements immediately.

Trissel said she was compelled to act after Tracy Walkup, 49, was killed on June 26, becoming the fifth fatality at the intersection since 1992.

“It’s always scary. We’re very, very cautious when we approach that intersection,” Trissell said. “I think (the roundabout) will work. I do think it’s going to slow people down. They’re going to have to learn the new system. But it’s going to make that intersection a lot safer.

Officials are considering closing the intersection for about 30 to 45 days when construction begins in the summer of 2014, but no decision has been made.

The single-lane, circular intersection by design will require motorists to yield when they enter the intersection and create an environment in which drivers must slow down to about 30 mph inside the circular roadway, ODOT officials said, adding that it will be built to accommodate truck and farm machine traffic.

The need for the roundabout will increase with each year as currently, about 7,500 vehicles use the intersection each day and the volume is expected to increase to 10,740 vehicles per day in 2034, officials said.

Schmid, who has studied crash data at the intersection, said the roundabout is the best solution to improve problems in the area.

“It’s the only way to keep people slow and pay attention through the intersection. The roundabout won’t correct driver inattention, but the way it’s engineered is, if you’re going 55, you’ll go off the side road. You’re not going to be able navigate it. You’ll have to slow down.”