You Paid For It: Roundabouts - Part One

- NORTHEAST WI (WFRV) What was once a unique road design for intersections is fast becoming the norm in Wisconsin. We are talking about roundabouts and chances are good you have driven through one or two.

In Wisconsin, discussion over the benefits of roundabouts keeps going in circles. Right now, the state of these traffic control measures and a look at the claim, that they make our roads safer.

We call our special report  "You Paid For It: Roundabouts."

Over the last two decades, some 300 roundabouts have been constructed in Wisconsin.

"State of Wisconsin is one of the leaders in the country," said Randy Asman of the DOT.

Engineers and transportation officials say they are safer and the data seems to bears that out.

"Roundabouts move traffic better, less accidents, less severity of accidents, compared to a standard signal," said Scott Thoresen, public works director of De Pere.

And while many motorists agree.

"I love them - they keep traffic flowing," said one driver.

Others still don't believe what the experts claim.

"I think they cause more accidents then they say they do," said one concerned mother.

In 2013 a DOT study showed roundabouts actually reduced severe crashes where constructed by 38 percent. Although it also noted there was a 12 percent increase in less serious fender-benders.

The exact cause for that increase was unknown. However, Randy Asman thinks he knows why.

"The main thing here is people not understanding the rules of the road," said the DOT traffic engineer.

"This intersection has a lot of bad history from an accident and safety perspective," said Representative Al Ott (R-Forest Junction).

The intersection Rep. Ott is referring to is WIS 55 and County KK near Kaukauna, included in the DOT's roundabout study. In the three years before a roundabout was constructed here, there were 18 crashes, nine causing injury and nine property damage only. Four years after opening - there have been five crashes - one causing injury.

"It's been a great improvement for highway safety," said Ott."To reduce the degree of accidents and injury that would be here."

"The safety statistics are what drive it," said Asman.

Another intersection included in that study - the multi-lane roundabout at the Claude Allouez Bridge in De Pere.  Where until recently, the data showed this roundabout as being more problematic.

"The multi-lane as everyone knows - are more of a challenge for some," said Asman.

Three years before being built the former intersection of WIS 32 and WIS 57 - had 51 total crashes, 13 causing various injuries. Over the four years after this roundabout opened - there were 155 crashes - 28 causing injury.

The DOT states that during those four years the WIS 172 Bridge over the Fox River was undergoing a two-year improvement project. Asman says many drivers used the Claude Allouez Bridge as an alternate route.

However, De Pere's public works director says the state also underestimate potential traffic using the roundabout, during its design.

"They always plan 20 years out for ultimate traffic flow," said Scott Thoresen. "But they hit the design flow right away."

In August 2012, DOT improved the pavement marking and changed the lane designations. Since then data shows 16 crashes through the end of last year.

"We're continuing to monitor," said Asman. "It's encouraging the changes we made there are making an improvement to safety - and we haven't heard any negative issues since and that's a benefit."

However, while crash data is improving both here and statewide the angst among many drivers still exists.

"Just got to learn how to do it - inside outside - stay in your lane," said one man who loves roundabouts.

"They scare a lot of people if you haven't seen them before," said one woman.

"The bigger ones with two or three lanes - I'm as lost as the next person," said one man.

And with nearly 300 roundabouts in operation in the state and another 130 planned in the next few years, this circling debate most likely will not go away.

Wisconsin is among the leaders nationwide in terms of constructing roundabouts - when upgrading dangerous intersections on state highways.

You can hear our entire interview with Rep.  Al Ott on We Are Green Bay Dot Com. Ott sits on the Assembly's Transportation Committee.     

There is one lawmaker who says the DOT has too much power, when it comes to deciding where to build roundabouts.

He has authored a bill - that would give local communities - the final say.

We will explore that Wednesday night at 10.




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