KDOT recommends roundabout solution for U.S. 50/77

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF

The state secretary of transportation told Florence city leaders Monday that constructing a roundabout would be safest financially feasible solution for the intersection at U.S. highways 50 and 77.

Secretary Deb Miller and a small entourage from the Kansas Department of Transportation spent about an hour in Florence to introduce the concept and explain the advantages of the roundabout approach.

The group also set the date of Oct. 7 for a meeting to present information about the strategy to the general public as well as answer questions. The time and location of that meeting will be announced later.

The intersection of the two well-traveled highways has been the focus of considerable concern in Florence, particularly in the wake of an accident this summer that killed two teenage girls with county connections.

Since that accident, K-DOT made the intersection a four-way stop by adding stop signs to halt traffic on U.S. 50. But some leaders and residents have said the intersection continues to be dangerous.

The use of roundabouts is common in England, Australia and in recent years in the United States, but is relatively new to Kansas.

About 22 roundabouts have been constructed in the state, including one at the intersection of highways K-68 and U.S. 169 near Paola in eastern Kansas.

David Church, a K-DOT traffic engineer, said that roundabout has had a significant impact. When the intersection was only a two-way stop, 17 right-angle accidents occurred there over a three-year period, resulting in injuries to 25 people.

When the intersection became a four-way stop, the number of accidents was reduced to one or two over 21/2 years. In the nearly 11/2 years since the roundabout, no injury accidents have occurred.

Miller said in anticipation of local support, her department has begun preliminary engineering work in order to coincide construction of the roundabout as close as possible with major work already planned for U.S. 77 starting in 2005.

“It may not be quite ready at the same time, but it should be close,” she said.

Miller said a roundabout would not make all traffic come to a stop, but it would force vehicles to slow to around 20 mph while negotiating the intersection.

Sheriff Lee Becker noted that roundabout enforces a slow speed by the nature of its construction, especially for semi-trucks.

“One thing about roundabouts,” Becker said. “If you don’t slow down, you’ll be laying on your side.”

Church said the roundabout at Paola has had two instances of “run throughs,” when trucks did not slow down in time and simply drove through the median-but without traffic ramifications.

Asked about comparative traffic flow, Church said the Paola intersection handles about 6,000 cars a day while the Florence intersection handles about 5,000 a day.

Local leaders were not immediately ready to rubber-stamp the idea, though by the time the hour was over, they did seem to think the idea was worth pursuing.

Scott Zogelman of the local ambulance crew said he was still convinced that constructing an overpass would be the only safe solution.

But Miller said an overpass simply was not an option, given budget constraints in Topeka. She estimated the cost of an overpass at around $8 million and the cost of a roundabout at around $1.5 million.

Of continuing concern to several in attendance was the safety of the U.S. 50/77 intersection until a roundabout would be built.

A couple of people in attendance said they have seen firsthand or heard from reliable sources that some traffic continues to ignore the new stop signs.

“We still have semis coming through that sucker (intersection) and not stopping,” Councilor Randy Mills said.

Mayor John Lehman said a source within the sheriff’s office told him 17 citations were written in a two-hour period soon after the four-way stop was installed.

Lehman said the addition of a variable-message sign warning traffic of the impending stop had made a positive difference since that time.

Sheriff Becker reported at the meeting that only one ticket had been written all of last weekend.

Lehman was concerned about K-DOT’s intention to remove the variable-message sign at the end of this month.

“The roundabout sounds like a good solution,” he said, “but I want it safe (at the intersection) until then.”

Lehman and others also lobbied for a 45 mph speed limit through the area.

“Two serious accidents are worth a (variable-message) sign and a 45 mph speed limit,” Lehman said.

Plans for the Oct. 7 public meeting are yet to be finalized, but a tentative format would start with a meeting between KDOT personnel and public officials from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., and then begin the meeting with the general public at 5 p.m.

Details will be announced soon, Miller said.

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