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NDOT: Likely no roundabouts until 2016

Pahrump motorists won’t have to worry about studying a video on ways to negotiate roundabouts on Highway 372 any time soon, or get trapped like actor Chevy Chase in “European Vacation.”

“Look kids, there’s Big Ben, Parliament — again.”

It will be at least another three years before the Nevada Department of Transportation funds any such road project.

“We’re currently working through the design process right now,” NDOT Deputy Director Bill Hoffman said Tuesday after a tour of Pahrump roads led by Assemblyman James Oscarson, R-Pahrump. “We’re feeling comfortable with late 2015, early 2016 delivery time line for those roundabouts. But there are always issues involved with trying to acquire right-of-way, with utilities and things like that.”

NDOT is currently in the process of acquiring right of way, he said, adding it doesn’t involve a whole lot of property.

Nye County commissioners last June agreed to the concept of constructing two roundabouts on Highway 372 at intersections with Blagg Road and Pahrump Valley Boulevard. NDOT agreed to match the cost, estimated at $1.8 million for both of them, with Nye County picking up $900,000 to $1 million of the cost.

Hoffman said the intersections don’t warrant a traffic signal. But he said, “because of the frequency and severity of crashes at those two intersections, we felt an engineered scenario using roundabouts would be the best solution.”

“We have data and there’s data nationally showing the crash severity and frequency drops exponentially with putting a roundabout in,” he said.

Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada Regional Director Wendy Barnett said after a roundabout was put in on Lamoille Canyon Road in Elko County, there is a demand for 10 or 15 more roundabouts around Elko and Spring Creek.

Resident Joseph Sepe said people will be unfamiliar with how to use one. He told Hoffman, “it’s something new, people in this town, it’s like learning how to walk all over again and for them to go in when you’re set in your ways with one thing and have this thrown into the mix.”

“Just standing at that intersection with this group on that road tour, I could see there were at least four or five potential accidents that almost occurred in 10 minutes’ time frame while I was standing there. Based on my experience with roundabouts elsewhere around the state, those close calls wouldn’t have happened with a roundabout,” Hoffman said of the Pahrump Valley Boulevard-Highway 372 intersection.

When asked about the cost of a traffic signal at those intersections by comparison, Hoffman continued to emphasize the advantages of roundabouts.

“We normally go through a signal analysis warrant and we look to see if the signal is actually warranted at those intersections. There’s not enough traffic moving through that intersection to merit a signal,” Hoffman said. “What happens at signalized intersections is you’re trading accident types not necessarily severity. You get people running into the rear end of others, you get people running the signal late and T-boning other cars. So the severity is still there, just because a traffic signal is there does not mean it’s not dangerous.”

NDOT spokesman Damon Hodge said the agency doesn’t have an estimate for a traffic signal at those specific intersections. He said estimates for a traffic signal range widely from $250,000 to $1 million. Roundabout construction can start at $450,000 depending on whether it’s a two-lane or four-lane road, he said. During previous discussions with Nye County Commissioners NDOT indicated the county would have to pay the entire cost of a traffic signal.

Likewise the continued widening of Highway 160 will take a few more years. Hoffman said the widening from Red Rock Canyon Road to just past Mountain Springs to four lanes is scheduled to take place in fiscal year 2017-18 at a cost of $20 million to $25 million. Phase two, widening Highway 160 west of Mountain Springs Pass, like the remaining eight-mile section of two lane road from near the Clark County line to Calvada Boulevard, will take place later than that.

“It’s just pure and simple funding issues right now,” Hoffman said.

Oscarson said the Tuesday morning tour included five NDOT staff members, the Nevada Highway Patrol, Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall and Nye County Public Works Director Dave Fanning.

“This was an opportunity I’d been working on with Mr. Hoffman to make sure he knew what our concerns and needs were in Nye County,” Oscarson said.

Oscarson said they drove down Highway 160 and looked at the impact of flooding in September; drove through the section where the highway narrows entering Pahrump; were told about concerns at the intersection of Highway 160 and Mesquite Avenue; viewed the location of the proposed roundabouts and viewed where a pedestrian crosswalk is being considered in front of the Saddle West Hotel and Casino.

He said the priorities given to NDOT were improving shoulders and widening Highway 160 going up to Highway 95.

Hoffman applauded the work by NDOT maintenance workers and their collaboration with the Nye County public works department in clearing off mud and debris that closed Highway 160 for a day near the Tecopa Turnoff in September.

“I would just like to say that NDOT is trying to reach out to local public works agencies, local communities and is extremely interested in hearing what the issues are with traffic and traffic safety throughout the state,” he said.

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