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Roundabouts OK’d at highway intersections

Negotiations with the Nevada Department of Transportation to construct roundabouts at State Route 372 intersections with Pahrump Valley Boulevard and Blagg Road were approved by county commissioners Tuesday.

Commissioner Frank Carbone cast the sole vote against.

Commissioners voted to allocate $900,000 as the county’s match of NDOT estimates to construct the two roundabouts, taken out of impact fees and another $900,000 toward improving a three-mile stretch of Manse Road from Homestead Road to Hafen Ranch Road, top priorities for street improvements. NDOT agreed to pay the other $900,000 for the estimated cost of the roundabouts and any overages.

The county commission followed up on a recommendation by the Capital Improvements Plan Advisory Committee, a 13-member board that meets quarterly, which recommended roundabouts as a traffic control measure. The CIP board was told construction would begin no later than May 2014.

Lori Campbell, NDOT traffic safety engineer, said if the county wanted a traffic signal they would have to pay for it all themselves. Nye County Public Works Director Dave Fanning said NDOT won’t allow a traffic signal at Highway 372 and Pahrump Valley Boulevard, it would be too close to the light at State Route 160.

Carbone was concerned about having to acquire property, possibly through eminent domain. He also had concerns over traffic backing up on Highway 372 at the approach to Pahrump Valley Boulevard.

The roundabouts were seen as cheaper to construct than a traffic light. Sheriff Tony DeMeo said the light at Homestead Road and Highway 160 cost $2.3 million.

Campbell said roundabouts are a systematic approach NDOT is using statewide. She said Pahrump motorists would learn how to use them.

“That roundabout would be the best solution at this location and it would be the best solution at many intersections around the state, especially at rural intersections. That being said, if the county was able to contribute some funds to this, that would bring this high crash location to the top of our list for improvements,” Campbell said.

She said roundabouts will reduce crashes by 80 percent.

Commission Chairman Butch Borasky said he’s driven through roundabouts in places like Summerlin and never had a problem negotiating them. But he still had questions about putting a roundabout in a highly congested area at Pahrump Valley Boulevard.

Fanning endorsed the idea. He said the intent of roundabouts isn’t to stop traffic but decrease crashes and traffic-related issues.

“This is something that I think would benefit the valley if we can actually get these things in the appropriate area for that given speed in the amount of traffic lanes,” Fanning said.

But he said there would be a lot of right-of-way that needed to be purchased at the Pahrump Valley Boulevard intersection and drainage problems. Nye County owns the little triangle at the north side of the intersection.

Borasky said motorists would have to stop for a red light at a traffic signal, it would also have to be coordinated with other traffic lights.

“The roundabouts in theory you’re slowing everybody down a little bit, you slow but there’s no stop,” Borasky said. “The thing we have to worry about is there’s a lot of people who don’t like roundabouts or don’t know how to go around them.”

Campbell added, “if I can get it to grandmother and explain it to her, I’m going to go with it.”

The annual maintenance cost was also a factor. Campbell said the average cost of maintaining a roundabout is $5,000, Fanning said it’s $22,000 per year to maintain a traffic light.

Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said he was opposed to the original plan to install a roundabout at Homestead Road and Highway 160 but he’s not as opposed to one at Pahrump Valley Boulevard and Highway 372. Schinhofen said he spoke to the owner of Big O Tires, one of the businesses that will have a new access. The county will also have to negotiate with Seemoore’s Ice Cream on Blagg Road and Highway 372.

Schinhofen said he’d like to install one roundabout first to see how it goes, but Campbell said the agreement with NDOT was for both.

Pahrump Fire Chief Scott Lewis told Carbone his fire engines could travel through roundabouts, which are different than traffic circles he knew back in New Jersey. Commissioner Donna Cox, who lives in a motor home, was concerned about senior citizens pulling them through roundabouts or truck drivers pulled semi-trailers.

“We have a lot of senior citizens with motor homes and one of my worries about this is confusing senior citizens,” Cox said. She suggested spending extra money to put a traffic light on Blagg Road and Highway 372, the motorists at the intersection with Pahrump Valley Boulevard could possibly take advantage of the light change to cross the highway. Campbell said traffic signals at Highway 160 and at Blagg Road would be too far apart to affect traffic flow.

Borasky recalled seeing videos of the NDOT roundabout presentation showing a truck driver traveling right through the middle. Commissioners were told they may not want to build a statue or a nice garden in the middle of a roundabout for fear motorists will drive over it.

But Cox added, “as much as I don’t really care about roundabouts, we’ve got to do something at the intersections. There’s too many accidents, too many lives in jeopardy.”

When resident David Stevens objected, Borasky asked if he would like to be broad sided at 40 mph or have someone lightly rear end him?

Campbell said motorists navigating a roundabout would slow down to about 25 mph.

“They’re driving around the United States and they’re seeing these everywhere. So Pahrump would not be the only roundabout they’d see,” Campbell said.

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