Emerging roundabouts in area elicit strong reactions
By DAVE RANK Daily News Staff
Roundabouts are sprouting up in Washington County and the rest of Wisconsin like fairy rings in a forest meadow. Mention roundabouts and someone will share their opinion.
“I love roundabouts,” West Bend’s Dave Kliss said. “I can get through without getting stuck in the intersection and I always feel safer in a roundabout.”
For good reasons, highway designers say. “The primary reason is safety,” said Patrick Fleming, a Wisconsin Department of Transportation standards development engineer. “Because of lower speeds and the circular angles, you don’t get the severity of crashes you do in traditional intersections, the T-collision.”
Traffic flow played a significant part in that decision, Wondra said.
Based on projections, by 2031 there would be a 2.5minute delay for westbound vehicles on Highway NN that wanted to turn left (south) onto Highway P if stop signs were used, Washington County Highway Commissioner Thomas Wondra said. “I do not think the general public would tolerate twoand- a-half minute delays,” he said.
With a roundabout, the delay would be about 10 seconds, Wondra said.
“Typically, traffic will move up quicker than on a traditional intersection,” Fleming said. Yet, there are members of the public who find fault with the circular drive-throughs.
“I hate them,” June Peil from the town of Polk said. “People don’t know how to yield. They’re dangerous as heck. There should be a policeman at every one.”
Wondra said they are costeffective and improve traffic. “If you think about it, it’s pretty difficult to have a fatal crash in a roundabout,” he said.
Since the first roundabout was constructed at West Bend’s River Road and East Paradise Drive in 2003, there are 23 existing or planned roundabouts locally, Wondra said. “Sixteen currently exist. I could be off by one or two. We have thousands of intersections in Washington County and we have 16 roundabouts right now.”
The state has 268 roundabouts, Fleming said, adding there are 193 on the state highway system and 75 on municipal and county systems.
Brown County has the most roundabouts in Wisconsin with 72. Dane County’s 41 is second in the state with Winnebago in third with 28. “Washington County is fourth in the state,” Wondra said.
Safety remains the No. 1 argument for roundabouts, and there are statistics that back it up. A soon-to-be-released study of roundabouts in Wisconsin shows a 38 percent reduction in all categories of accidents from fatality to minor, Fleming said. That study was compiled by the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safty Laboratory in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Nationally, studies have shown that converting intersections to roundabouts reduce the number of accidents. Crash statistics show roundabouts reduce fatal crashes about 90 percent, injury crashes about 75 percent and overall crashes about 35 percent, when compared to other types of intersection control, according to information from the DOT.
There are proposals to build 33 more roundabouts in the state, Fleming said. “They seem to be accomplishing what we want and that’s reducing severe crashes,” he said.
Annoying to individuals who dislike roundabouts are areas where three or more consecutive rings are. “It becomes confusing,” Linda White of West Bend said. “You don’t know where to go.”
Besides the safety factor, Fleming said, roundabouts move traffic more efficiently on and off freeways. Roundabouts keep traffic moving, which avoids traffic backups on the ramps, he said.
Also, in places such as Cabela’s, which has five roundabouts in a row regulating traffic on and off highways 41 and 45 and into the commercial areas between the freeways, traffic lights would be impractical, Fleming said.
There is typically little difference in the overall cost and maintenance between a signalized intersection and a roundabout, according to the DOT.
Where there are intersections in such close proximity to each other, it would be impossible to time lights to allow left turns and keep traffic progressing without repeated delays, he said.
Large vehicles need more space when driving in a roundabout. A truck apron is a paved area on the inside of the roundabout for the rear wheels of large trucks to use when turning, sometimes referred to as off-tracking. Truck aprons are not to be used by cars, SUVs or pickup trucks.