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Ministry answers questions about roundabouts

Rick Blixrud, assistant regional director with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, answers questions posed by the Times
A diagram of the proposed roundabout for the junction of Highway 5 and the road to Wells Gray Park shows how it would have two lanes going east-west but only one lane going north-south.

Editor's Note: The following are responses given by Rick Blixrud, assistant regional director with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, to questions posed by the Times about the roundabout proposed for the intersection of Highway 5 and the road to Wells Gray Park.

1.  Do you know how much the proposed roundabout would cost?

We are tendering the construction of the roundabout so our cost estimates for construction cannot be released at this time.

2. How would that compare to the cost of installing traffic lights at the location?

Depending on configuration of either treatment, the costs of building a roundabout and traffic signal are comparable.

Where long-term costs are considered, roundabouts eliminate hardware, maintenance and electrical costs associated with traffic signals. Roundabouts are also more effective during power outages. Unlike traditional signalized intersections, which must be treated as a four-way stop or require police to direct traffic, roundabouts continue to work like normal.

3. How would operating costs compare, roundabout versus traffic lights?

Operating costs for a roundabout are lower as there are no costs for the hardware, maintenance or electrical costs associated with traffic signals.

However, the ministry's number one priority is public safety on our roads, and the roundabout has received the support of the District of Clearwater as being the best way to meet the community's concerns.

4. The drawing from the District of Clearwater has one lane going north-south and two lanes going east-west. Is this still the proposed layout? If so, what is the reasoning?

Detailed design has been completed and likely looks quite similar to the information previously distributed. The outside lanes going east - west are through traffic lanes, while the inside lanes are for those turning onto Park Drive or Clearwater Valley Rd

5. Would large tractor-trailers still be able to turn left easily onto or off of Highway 5?

Yes. The intersection is engineered to long-standing and proven standards and will accommodate all types of vehicles routinely using the highway, as well as extraordinary loads.

6. What has been the experience with combined one-lane/two-lane roundabouts elsewhere regarding safety?

Roundabouts reduce the potential for a serious crashes, like being T-boned or hit head on. In fact, studies have shown that roundabouts have 35 per cent fewer crashes, 90 per cent fewer vehicle fatalities and 76 per cent fewer vehicle-related injuries. With numbers like those, it's easy to see why roundabouts are becoming more common. For a variety of situations, such as a considerable volume of traffic making left hand turns at an intersection or a significant history of collisions, a roundabout is a preferred choice rather than traditional intersections. The design of this specific intersection will conform to all applicable Ministry standards and engineering specifications.

7. Local business owner Kym Jim said at a meeting Thursday night that a Ministry representative had told him that the District of Clearwater had initiated discussions for a roundabout. The people from the District, on the other hand, say the idea came from the Ministry. Can you clarify?

My understanding is that District of Clearwater has historically raised a number of issues with the Ministry:

• speeding through the Highway 5 corridor,

• pedestrian safety at this intersection

• the need to highlight the Gateway to Clearwater/Wells Grey.

In reviewing your question with the Ministry staff that attended these meetings, they indicate it would be difficult to actually say who first came up with the idea of a roundabout as a solution to these issues. The roundabout was certainly an option discussed between the two parties to be explored further. The information session held on Jan. 5 of this year had about 150 residents attend and the feedback was pretty positive (69 per cent supportive) and the District of Clearwater supported moving the project ahead. The Ministry has developed detailed design, purchased the property required and compiled a tender package to be released soon.

8. Also at Thursday's meeting, Clearwater councilor Shelley Sim asked if it was true that the Ministry will no longer build traffic lights on number highways. Is this correct?

As to signals, the Ministry applies engineering appropriate treatments at intersections as required. This includes signalized treatments where required by the site situation. So yes, we do still install signals to manage traffic in many locations. Installation of roundabouts has increased significantly in recent years in B.C., both on our roads and on city roads. The roundabout on Highway 97 in Dawson Creek, which arguably sees a very high volume of industrial traffic, has been in operation for more than 20 years. Starting about five years ago, our policy on design option review was amended to include roundabouts. Due to their increased safety and efficiency, and lower longer term operating cost, they are considered on every intersection as the first option. If they are not appropriate, then signalized options are reviewed.

Roundabouts are the preferred treatment in almost every other country in the world. I recently went to Australia for five months - roundabouts outnumber signalized intersections probably 1,000 to one!

Additional information:

This roundabout is the result of extensive consultation with local government and the community, which indicated strong support for a roundabout as a safer and more efficient way of moving traffic. One of the concerns of local government was speeding through the corridor, despite increased signage and RCMP presence. A roundabout provides a means of ensuring traffic will slow down, especially where pedestrians are crossing. This should increase safety for students going to the nearby school and pedestrians accessing local businesses and the Tourist Information Center.

This link has information on roundabouts: