Eye On KELOLAND: Going In Circles

KELOLAND drivers will soon be encountering another roundabout on their daily commutes.  Lincoln County is building a half-million dollar roundabout south of Sioux Falls on Louise Avenue, near Tea. When it's finished this fall, it will become the third circular intersection in the Sioux Falls area.  Drivers say they're adjusting to the roundabout's learning curve.

The future of transportation is taking drivers round and round.

"We have some real issues with traffic in Lincoln County," Lincoln County Commissioner Jim Schmidt said.

Rush hour congestion prompted the Lincoln County Commission to approve construction of a roundabout south of Sioux Falls, to ease traffic backups, east of Tea.

"Cars are lined up for at least three-quarters of a mile in every direction whether it's east or west or north or south, so we needed something to speed up the traffic around here, a 4-way stop just doesn't cut it," Schmidt said.

The expectation is a roundabout will move traffic through more seamlessly since drivers don't have to come to a stop.

"Anytime you can take an intersection and keep people moving, that's the key and we want to keep people moving," Schmidt said.

Drivers in Sioux Falls travel through two roundabouts: one at the University Center, the other at 69th and Southeastern.  According to the City, the 69th and Southeastern roundabout has saved drivers an average wait time of nearly 500 hours every year.

"It's much more efficient for the drivers to drive through, they experience a lot less delay because they're not coming to a stop, they have to accelerate," Public Works Director Mark Cotter said.

South Dakota has been slow to embrace roundabouts.  A Department of Transportation plan to build a roundabout at Wall Lake corner is getting pushback from nearby residents who say it it will only make the intersection more congested.  Even drivers who favor roundabouts acknowledge they require a lot of getting used to. 

"They just made me nervous at first. So, I don't mean to sound like a slow person or anything, but they are confusing the first few times you use them," Paul Koupal of Sioux Falls said.

That confusion about how to navigate a roundabout can lead to crashes.

"It's not foolproof.  We have seen a few accidents out here, just people failing to yield and taking the corner a little too fast," GreatLIFE Performance Center General Manager Randall Hill said.

Yet studies show roundabouts are actually much safer than traditional four-way stops since there are fewer spots, called "conflict points" where cars can crash.  And the lower speeds within the roundabout mean less-severe collisions, when they do happen.

"They typically slow down into that 20 mile-per-hour range, where, if somebody's got a green light, they may go through it at 35-40," Cotter said.

Sioux Falls drivers may encounter another roundabout in the future.  While there's nothing in the works yet, and no site has been selected, the city is looking at adding another roundabout, possibly at an existing intersection.

"Could be a good option to retrofit into an intersection and keep traffic moving," Cotter said.

The expectation is that drivers will become more comfortable with roundabouts the more they give them a spin.  In a growing city with ever-growing traffic tie-ups, roundabouts could help straighten-out all that congestion.    

The Public Works Department says roundabouts can save the city up to $10,000 a year in maintenance costs since there are no signal lights to keep running.  Plus, traffic within a roundabout is never disrupted during a power outage. That came in handy during last month's Hurricane Florence where authorities in North Carolina set up temporary roundabouts to keep traffic moving at major intersections.

If you're a little skittish about traveling through a roundabout, you can take a virtual driving lesson with the help of the Federal Highway Administration.

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