Warren County plans to spend about $7 million in the next 18 months on roundabouts — rather than traditional intersections with traffic lights — to manage traffic and other safety hazards.
The spending is the another example of the growing popularity on road construction designed to angle merging drivers into the circular roadways to keep traffic moving, rather than stacked up in lines waiting for the green light.
Communities across Ohio are building or considering using roundabouts.
Butler County, like Warren County situated along the Interstate 75 corridor between Dayton and Cincinnati, has turned increasingly to roundabouts at busy new intersections.
They are also showing up around Columbus, where the city of Dublin is counting on them to unsnarl local gridlock, as well as in suburban Akron and Cleveland.
In the Dayton area, Huber Heights has asked the Ohio Department of Transportation whether a roundabout might save lives, as well as better manage traffic at Ohio 4 and New Carlisle Pike — just south of Interstate 70.
Springfield leaders also have debated turning to roundabouts, amid concerns from drivers and local officials.
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“I had a problem with them at first,” said Warren County Engineer Neil Tunison, the elected official directing the construction of five roundabouts in the coming year in Clearcreek, Turtlecreek, Deerfield and Wayne townships.
That was before Tunison learned roundabouts were improvements in several ways on rotaries and traffic circles, old-fashioned alternatives to traditional T-intersections.
“A roundabout is a type of circular intersection, but is quite unlike a neighborhood traffic circle or large rotary. Roundabouts have been proven safer and more efficient than other types of circular intersections,” according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Traditional intersections leave drivers with 32 points of potential conflict, sometimes resulting in injury – if not fatal- T-bone, head-on and rear-end crashes.
“With a roundabout you’re down to eight points,” Tunison said. That’s the beauty of the roundabout.”
Roundabout designs use yield signs, “splitter islands” and other devices to merge drivers into openings in moving traffic, cutting the amount of time stopped.
There are still crashes, but they are rear enders or side-swipes typically with less serious injuries.
“Your speeds are slower. You are going in the same direction. The severity of the crashes tends to be less,” Tunison added.
At Socialville-Fosters Road at Innovation Way in Deerfield Twp and the City of Mason, drivers are already negotiating the $1.8 roundabout recently finished there, part of a $6.5 million project over Interstate 71 completed in November 2016.
So far, this intersection is only three quarters of a circle, with the full roundabout to be in action, once Innovation Way is extended to the south. This $1.1 million project, part of the $4 million extension of Innovation Way, is to be opened late this fall.
“In fact, roundabouts don’t even need to be perfectly circular! Successful roundabouts come in all shapes and sizes,” federal highway officials said on a web page dedicated to roundabouts.
By mid-June, a $1 million roundabout at the Warren-Hamilton county line is expected to free up a bottleneck from Fields-Ertel Road, just east of I-71 at Columbia Road-Lebanon Road.
In this case, the roundabout cut from 22 to four the number of properties that had to be taken for a turn lane, Tunison said. This saved about $750,000 and minimized the negative on property owners.
A month later, up north at Union and Greentree roads, just east of Interstate 75, a $1.3 million roundabout is to replace stop-signed intersection where crashes were occurring more and more often as traffic picked up in the area.
“In the future, it will function just as efficiently as a traffic signal. It reduces the crash potential that a four-way intersection has,” Tunison said.
Butler County has added roundabouts in recent years. The one at Easton and Beissinger roads was the ninth. Two more are on tap next year at Hamilton-Mason and LeSourdsville-West Chester and Millikin and Yankee roads in fast-growing Liberty Twp.
The Ohio Department of Transportation plans to fund construction of one at Ohio 73 and Jacksonburg Road, west of Trenton.
In January, bids are to be opened on a $1.7 million roundabout, between Wayneville and Lebanon, at Township Line and Old Ohio 122 in Wayne and Clearcreek townships.
In Springfield, residents and local leaders were divided over plans for a $675,000 roundabout at Bechtle Avenue and the St. Paris Connector replacing a lighted intersection.
“I guess I’d be for it. I’ve seen the one in Urbana. At times it’s crazy-looking, but if people just do what they’re supposed to do, it seems like it gets traffic through pretty well. I think it would be a good idea,” Dennis Drugmand of Springfield said in February.
Others worry the new design could worsen problems at and around the intersection.
“It might be (a good idea), but if people get confused, it could cause more wrecks. I hate the Urbana one. I had family up there and it would always scare me to make sure I was going the right way. It was very confusing.” Sandra Vawter of Springfield commented before the Springboro City Commission rejected the proposal.
In Springboro, a roundabout was tossed out during the design phase of what is now projected at about $10 million in road improvements, including a modified T-intersection, at the city’s central crossroads.
The south side of the intersection of Ohio 741 and Ohio 73, Main Street and Central Avenue in Springboro, leads into the city’s historic district.
Rather than infringe on this area, the city decided to go with a more traditional, lighted design.
Still federal highway officials advocate for roundabouts.
“Like any new technology or idea, it is necessary that people understand how roundabouts work and why they are needed. This conversation begins by communicating the magnitude and importance of the intersection safety challenge. With roughly ¼ of all traffic fatalities in the United States associated with intersections, it is critical that safer designs are implemented as widely and routinely as possible,” according to the Federal Highway Administration.
In Ohio, the roundabout was first unveiled at county engineer association meeting seven or eight years ago, said Tunison, a past president of the group.
“It’s just getting used to it. It is different,” he said.
Staff Writers Michael Cooper and Ed Richter contributed to this report.