A circular remedy for a straight-line highway hazard

Dear DOT: Thank you for considering a roundabout for our Highway 33-Highway I intersection. This is the solution we need for the problems of an outmoded highway crossing that has been made extremely dangerous by heavy traffic and high speeds. We appreciate the fact that the roundabout would be paid for with state highway funds, and we urge you to proceed with this project at all reasonable speed. Sincerely, Saukville Town Board.

A letter like that would have been an appropriate response by the supervisors of the Town of Saukville to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s suggestion of building a roundabout at the 33-I intersection. Instead, the Town Board reacted with skepticism and a grumble, as though roundabouts are some sort of radical concept the town is not ready to accept.

That’s surprising because there is no mystery about roundabouts. Years of experience worldwide have proven their ability to safely manage traffic. For good measure, Wisconsin’s increasing use of roundabouts has shown them to be the antidote for the most deadly crashes at intersections—T-bone collisions, one vehicle crashing into the side of another.

The 33-I intersection is a classic example of a highway crossing that invites those crashes. All four approaches are on the down slope of hills, adding speed and compromising visibility. Traffic is often heavy on Highway 33, the commuter route between West Bend and the Saukville-Port Washington area, and vehicle volume on county Highway I is growing as development of once-rural Saukville increases. Highway speed limits apply and are often pushed by drivers.

Crashes at the intersection, with two fatalities in the past five years, attest to the hazards.

Roundabouts, or traffic circles, virtually eliminate the right-angle collisions that can result from drivers’ failure to obey traffic lights or stop signs. This is the main reason Wisconsin’s state highway engineers propose them when warranted by traffic volume and the availability of the substantial amount land needed for roundabouts. The 33-I intersection fits the bill on both counts.

Another reason DOT planners are enamored of roundabouts is that they keep traffic moving, instead of waiting and idling at stop lights and stop signs. The two roundabouts in the Village of Saukville at busy intersections in the east side commercial area are good examples of this advantage.

These are also Highway 33 intersections, and if they were controlled by stop-and-go lights there would be long waits for traffic generated by Walmart, a supermarket and other popular commercial destinations to cross. With the roundabouts, traffic blends efficiently. Accidents have been infrequent and mostly of the fender-bender variety, a sign that drivers have adapted well to the once unfamiliar traffic circle maneuvers.

In expressing his objection to a state-funded 33-I roundabout, one town supervisor complained, “It wouldn’t be our tax money, but it would still be our tax dollars.”

The supervisor’s concern for state spending is commendable, but it would be better if his primary concern would be serving the interests of the town residents who elected him—interests that include making roads safer and taking advantage of the availability of state funds for the benefit of his constituents.

The entire Town Board would be wise to temper its skepticism of roundabouts and consider the safety of the hundreds of people who pass through the dangerous 33-I intersection every day. 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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