Roundabout Long Time Coming

Ellen Hoffman, Editor-in-Chief

Editor’s note: This story is the last of a three part series investigating a new traffic pattern in place of the five-way intersection in downtown Dallas.

Some students at Misericordia may be just hearing about the roundabout project now, but in reality the project has been a long time coming, according to PennDOT and Dallas Borough officials.

In 2005, PennDOT conducted a Back Mountain Area Transportation Study and the roundabout was one of five alternate plans of travel for the heart of Dallas, replacing the current five-way intersection.

According to Steve Giampaolo of McMahon Associates, the project team developed five alternatives for the intersection, including a conventional intersection and multiple roundabout configurations. Since 2005, there have been numerous public and community meetings about the project, some even held on campus. The alterna- tive routes of travel were first displayed at the public meetings.

From there, a Community Advisory Committee, public officials and the public came to an agreement on a single lane circular roundabout or a single lane oval roundabout, according to Giampaolo.

“Both options were presented at a second public meeting. A feasibility study was prepared and after careful review, PennDOT selected the oval roundabout with a single circulating travel lane,” he said. Timothy J. Carroll, Mayor of Dallas Borough, worked with the other officials on this project design. He reached out and spoke significantly with Sam Scirva, mayor of Rochester, Pa., whose town has a similar roundabout design.

“I talked to a mayor that was out by Pittsburgh about a roundabout that they had done. He said, ‘Tim, I’m going to tell you, everyone was against it. All the businesses were against it.’ He said, ‘I’m going to tell you today that everyone loves it.’ He said, ‘Everyone just turned around 100 percent and loves it.’”

Carroll and Borough Council members have been receiving backlash about the roundabout project from community members and business owners. Many, Carroll said, compare the planned construction to roundabouts they’ve seen or travelled through in New Jersey.

“People compare them to Jersey and it’s not the same type. Every- one who jumps me says, ‘They’re taking them out of Jersey.’ It’s not the same thing though,” he said.

While the Borough is receiving complaints and questions about the construction process, they want the community to know this is a PennDOT and state project, the Borough is just supporting and hosting them as they construct the new traffic pattern.

“The roundabout is controlled by the state and is being done as a state project. We did agree to sup-

port it because it complies with our master plan and our comprehen- sive plan, but it is not our project. I would not want anyone to have the idea that we made the decision. It’s actually a PennDOT project,” Tracy Carr, Borough Manager said. “It’s just located in our municipality.”

Carr said the Borough is putting its faith into the traffic engineers who say this is the best scenario for the town.

Officials understand the community’s concern with the construction process but say it will only benefit the town and travelers in the end.

“The roundabout is going to give us more of a center of town. It’s going to pull the whole town together rather than having one highway cutting Dallas Borough downtown in half,” Carr said.

Giampaolo agrees with the Borough, especially in looking at the university and how much easier students will find traveling to and from campus.

“The project will have a positive impact on the university and community as the intersection design will improve traffic flow, particularly during the peak periods and create a more pedestrian-friendly environment,” he said.

Brent Berger of the Quad 3 Group, a local engineering firm, agrees the university will benefit.

“I hope it helps empty out foot- ball games because that is really ugly,” he said.

Kevin Atkins, PennDOT Liason

Engineer, wants the people of the Back Mountain to give it a chance before they decide it’s a bad idea.

“The roundabout is free flow, which will eliminate cars for sitting and idling to reduce exhaust emis- sions for cars and trucks sitting at the lights,” he said. “It has been es- tablished that it makes pedestrian movements safer by creating island areas that shorten the amount of lanes they have to cross.”

With the roundabout eliminat- ing all traffic lights at the five-way intersection, officials say the flow will be “non-stop.”

“Traffic lights are the worst traffic jam,” Berger said. “Stop signs are second. So these roundabouts have been put in a lot of places and they say they can move almost three times, I think is what they said, the cars that they can move compared to the traffic light system.”

Berger had an opportunity to travel through the Rochester roundabout and said, “it’s awe- some.”

He claims this roundabout is similar to the one Dallas residents will be used to traveling through come 2017 when the project will reach completion.

“Very similar,” he said of the style of roadway. “It’s five roads but not quite as big. The shape is a little different but there was nothing in the circle in the times I went through it. I mean I had lunch on one side and came back through and nothing was around. It didn’t really matter the time of the day.”

Berger said other states in the Northeast are turning to roundabouts.

“The reason the roundabout came about was the amount of traffic coming through,” he said. “Maryland, Mass., they’re putting them in like crazy. In fact they’re supposed to be the new highway system safety.”

Since the project is still a ways away, there is only minimal information available concerning detours and starting and ending dates.

Giampaolo said multiple detours for side streets will be needed throughout the project. At some point during construction, the five-way intersection will be unavailable to drivers. More information on the roundabout and detour information can be found on the project website.

The project, according to Giampaolo, will be advertised for construction at the end of this year with utility relocation work

on Machell Avenue and Route 415 beginning in 2015 and the bulk of the intersection under construc- tion from 2016 to 2017.

Before work in the five-way intersection area can begin, PennDOT needs to make improvements at State Route 309 and Center Hill Road, said Atkins. Officials will also install a turning lane at the intersection of State Route 309 and State Route 415 before the roundabout construction can begin.

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