By Mark Waite
The roundabout has come a long way since the 1985 movie “European Vacation” starring Chevy Chase, when Clark Griswald drove aimlessly around one on a trip to London, according to Nevada Department of Transportation Safety Coordinator Lori Campbell.
But the memories may still linger of 2006, when NDOT suggested installing a roundabout at Homestead Road and Highway 160 instead of a traffic light. At the time Nye County Commissioner Gary Hollis called it an understatement to say the idea went over like a lead balloon.
NDOT pitched the idea again Tuesday to the 13-member Capital Improvements Plan Advisory Committee for Blagg Road and Highway 372, offering the possibility of matching traffic safety money.
Committee chairman Mark Kimball said a subcommittee has been reviewing the proposal with NDOT. The capital improvements committee thought all their impact fee money was spent on the Homestead Road traffic light, which Nye County Public Works Director Dave Fanning said ended up costing about $2.2 million but included a temporary traffic light, drainage studies and acquiring right-of-way to widen the intersection. But committee members received a report Tuesday there is a balance of $2.5 million to spend on road improvements, thanks to a $2.25 million match from Nye County and $450,000 remaining to be collected from NDOT.
Campbell said roundabouts reduce crashes, slow down vehicles, provide an efficient flow of traffic, allow safer pedestrian crossings, have a positive benefit-to-cost ratio and can be aesthetically pleasing.
“Traffic signals are ideas that provide an orderly movement of traffic, they reduce the frequency of crashes, they also reduce the higher severity crashes, but they also introduce more rear-end crashes,” Campbell said.
Traffic signals also have to meet warrants under NDOT engineering guidelines, she said and can cause traffic delays. NDOT Traffic Engineer Kent Sears said the Blagg Road intersection didn’t meet the necessary traffic warrants for a signal.
A four-way stop sign increases average delay times and frustrates drivers, Campbell said.
But when it comes to roundabouts, Campbell said, “they’re tested and proven. They’re often low cost improvement. They’re what the Federal Highway Administration is suggesting to all communities.”
Accidents that may occur at roundabouts would tend to be sideswipes, that tend to be less severe, she said.
A roundabout at Highway 372 and Blagg Road would cost $1.63 million to construct, but only $1,000 in annual maintenance, according to an NDOT presentation. It would show a three-to-one cost-benefit ratio in reducing property damage from accidents, an NDOT report stated, eliminating 85 percent of the accidents at that intersection.
“If we do nothing, you can expect up to 8.4 crashes per year at this intersection, with five of those being serious injury and fatal crashes. Putting in a roundabout you can expect 1.3 crashes per year,” Campbell said.
Board member John Koenig cautioned Campbell the average daily traffic estimates of 5,300 at the Highway 372 intersection with Blagg Road would be low, since the road was closed since Dec. 22, 2010. A portion from Basin Avenue to Irene Street was opened last Friday.
Committee members were interested in the idea. Sheriff Tony DeMeo inquired if the safety funds were still available, NDOT officials said the Blagg Road roundabout would be near the top of their list.
Fire Chief Scott Lewis commented they’d be tearing up the new paving job NDOT completed on Highway 372 this summer.
Board member Wendy Barnett said Spring Creek residents have grown to like a roundabout near a high school in their community, but admitted a roundabout in Fernley was more difficult to navigate. Sears said residents in Summerlin complained about roundabouts at first, but once they learned to use them, think they’re great.
There are concerns about large vehicles being unable to navigate the roundabouts, Campbell said. She showed a humorous video where a motorist was stopped at the roundabout, not knowing what to do, while motorists behind drove around and a passing fire truck on the left side sped right over the roundabout.
“You don’t pull over, you clear a roundabout. That’s what needs to be taught,” Campbell said. “A traffic light works, but it’s cost-prohibitive and it’s not as safe. A traffic light brings in the type of crashes that are more serious.”
DeMeo said there are still traffic accidents at intersections with signals.
But resident Bob Little said NDOT was comparing apples and oranges, with roundabouts near a high school in Spring Creek where traffic is already slowed, and a busy road like Highway 372.
“You’re talking about slowing down traffic on a major highway from 45 to 25 mph which is the highest I’ve ever seen on a roundabout,” Little said.
He charged the push for roundabouts was due to Insurance Safety Council guidelines.
Little said Blagg Road is ordinarily a major artery, a route for emergency vehicles and school buses.
Campbell indicated they’ve also drawn up plans for a roundabout at the intersection of Pahrump Valley Boulevard and Highway 372, though it would be more expensive.
“Pahrump Valley Boulevard and 372 would have been at the top of the list, but it’s a more awkward location and there are cost factors there. Their comment was Blagg and 372 was an excellent candidate,” Kimball said. “If you want to find one that’s appropriate, you don’t pick the most difficult spot in town. Blagg and 372 is at least on the outskirts of town. It has a very high accident and fatality rate and it doesn’t require a lot of engineering to do a roundabout.”
Blagg Road and Highway 372 would be a good location to introduce Pahrump residents to the concept of a roundabout, he said.
In addressing the Pahrump Valley Boulevard intersection with Highway 372, Campbell said, “It is a wee bit more complicated in that you have more lanes coming in.”
County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said he was completely against the Homestead Road roundabout, but this latest proposal intrigued him, particularly if it will save money.
DeMeo said the traffic lights are a reoccurring cost that require maintenance contracts, he mentioned the light at Highway 160 and Highway 372 has had several modifications to its design. Workers are still making adjustments to the Homestead Road and Highway 160 traffic light, he said. The reoccurring costs, the safety factor and the possibility of getting something built quickly led the sheriff to view a roundabout favorably.
Nye County Planner Cheryl Beeman said, “I’m a big fan of roundabouts.” They can function well for bicyclists, she said. NDOT said pedestrian walkways could be designed efficiently around them.