First driver: “Have you heard the news on the roundabouts?”
Second driver: “No.”
First driver: “Well, as far as I can tell, it’s pretty straightforward.”
Joking aside, the presentation given Dec. 7 at the Sturgeon Bay High School by Jeremy Ashauer, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s (WisDOT) Project Manager for Door and Kewaunee Counties, was just that: brief, informative and straightforward.
Approximately 50 people attended the meeting and were given an overview of what to expect when Hwy. 42/57 is closed between Bayview Bridge and Egg Harbor Road next spring. Ashauer explained that construction will begin in March and will conclude before the July 4th weekend.
During this time, traffic will be diverted through Sturgeon Bay.
The Hwy. 42/57 Michigan Street to Egg Harbor Road Reconstruction project includes the creation of two multi-lane roundabouts constructed along Hwy. 42/57, one at the Michigan Street intersection and one at the Egg Harbor Road intersection. It also includes the construction of a restricted median at the Alabama Street intersection, allowing traffic from the east to turn north onto the highway and traffic from the west to turn south. Ashauer said, “Alabama Street will work exactly like Utah Street currently does.”
Bayview Bridge will receive maintenance that will necessitate it being kept in the closed position for up to 2½ months. Ashauer explained that the DOT has been meeting with members of the maritime community to discuss this event. “We will begin our work as soon as the Coast Guard completes its busy springtime work.”
The waterway under the bridge and through the shipping canal will be open only to watercraft that meet the height restrictions; all other boats will have to travel around the tip of the peninsula through the Death’s Door passage into Lake Michigan. A member of the audience pointed out that that adds many miles to the trip and asked if exceptions would be made. “Because of the nature of the maintenance being done,” Ashauer said, “once the bridge is closed, it will have to stay in that position.” He noted that the Spring 2016 maintenance work on the bridge and on the approaches to the bridge will “buy time” until additional work is needed.
Ashauer also addressed the roundabouts’ aesthetics and shared a drawing of the design with the audience. “When we met earlier with members of local communities, we heard that people wanted something that provided a ‘gateway’ feel and had a ‘rural’ look.” The roundabouts will feature beach stone, grasses, perennials and small trees as well as a sequence of artistic metal panels depicting Bayview Bridge. Red concrete on the approaches and the bike and pedestrian crosswalks will add visual appeal and increase safety.
When he opened the floor for questions, one woman questioned why Michigan Street was getting a roundabout when the Gordon Road intersection further north has been the site of fatal accidents. Ashauer acknowledged that they’ve heard concern about the Gordon Road intersection but explained that according to DOT traffic assessment studies, it is not as dangerous as those at Michigan, Alabama and Egg Harbor Road. “We’ll continue to monitor it, but right now there are no plans to make changes.”
Another member of the audience asked if the plantings and panels would impede vision across the roundabout. Ashauer explained that they would and that this is done intentionally. “You won’t be able to see across the roundabout. Roundabouts are designed so that you cannot see cars entering from all points. If you did, your instinct would be to wait for them. You can only see cars coming from your left and because of the curvature in the road, you have plenty of time to react to what you need to react to.”
Ashauer cautioned that roundabouts are not “silver bullets.”
“They will not be perfect. There may still be problems during peak traffic times. But,” he stressed, “98 percent of the time, the traffic flow is going to operate a lot better and be safer than it is now.”
He assured the crowd that in addition to the many pre-construction traffic studies done, the DOT would be conducting post-construction, follow-up studies to assess the project’s success and impact.
According to the WisDOT website, Wisconsin has 331 roundabouts in use. They have been proven to be safer than the intersections they replace (they reduce fatal crashes by about 90 percent and overall crashes by 35 percent), provide more efficient traffic flow, are more economical to build and are ecologically beneficial (they reduce idling emissions and fuel use).
Tony Depies, City of Sturgeon Bay engineer, reminded those in attendance that construction of the roundabouts here will save taxpayers money. “An original plan [to accommodate traffic from the east on Utah Street] called for building a frontage road along the highway through the Crossroads at Big Creek property. This is a less expensive solution.”
Mark Kantola, regional communication manager for WisDOT, encouraged people in the audience to call his office and arrange for a roundabout use and safety presentation. “If you belong to a group that could benefit, we’re happy to come up and do the presentation. It’s 15 – 20 minutes long. With questions, we’re through in about 30 minutes.”
He noted that the population as a whole is becoming more accustomed to roundabouts and the anxiety connected with them is diminishing. “It’s all about reducing people’s anxiety. Before roundabouts are constructed, most people are against them. Once they’re in place, the numbers flip-flop and people like them.”
For more information on the Door County project, contact [email protected] or 920.412.6381. To arrange for a presentation to a local group, contact Mark Kantola at 920.492.4153. Tips and suggestions for businesses that will be impacted by construction are also available on the WisDOT website under the “In This Together” program.