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Mon, Sept. 23

City moves forward with roundabout study

PRESCOTT - Depending on the outcome of a study that will take place over the next five months, Prescott drivers soon could see new roundabouts crop up at about a half-dozen intersections.

Despite remaining resistance among some area residents, the Prescott City Council approved a $362,160 contract Tuesday with a California consulting firm for the study and possible design of seven new roundabouts at six locations.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Suttles pointed out at the start of the discussion that she continues to hear complaints from residents who do not like the roundabout trend.

"I've never seen an issue that could cause more disgruntled feelings than roundabouts," Suttles said.

Mayor Rowle Simmons responded that he had received no recent complaints about the roundabout that the Arizona Department of Transportation installed a year ago at Highway 89 and Willow Lake Road.

"Remember all of the controversy before that roundabout went in, and now, I have not had one complaint," Simmons said, adding that the response is "the proof of the pudding."

But noting that she often hears complaints about the 89/Willow Lake roundabout, Suttles had a number of questions for the consultant and city staff members about the proposed new roundabouts.

For instance, she asked Engineering Services Director Mark Nietupski how the city chose the proposed sites, which include: twin roundabouts at Highway 89A/Side Road; the Side Road connector at Highway 89; Prescott Lakes Parkway at Sundog Ranch Road, as well as at the future Sundog connector road; Willow Creek Road at the proposed new Park West shopping center; and Highway 89 at Ruger Road.

Nietupski explained that most of the roundabout locations are in north Prescott, in "areas that are targeted for development."

Suttles also brought up the debatable effectiveness of roundabouts, noting that she had heard that communities in other states have opted to replace their roundabouts with traditional traffic signals.

But Scott Ritchie, roundabout specialist with the consultant firm Roundabouts & Traffic Engineering, pointed out that many people confuse modern roundabouts with the older traffic circles and rotary intersections.

"The modern roundabout is a new traffic device in the U.S.," Ritchie said. While the first U.S. modern roundabout dates back to the early 1990s, he said, rotaries and traffic circles have been around much longer, are less effective and more dangerous.

A roundabout Web site that city officials have used as a reference indicates that rotaries are much larger than modern roundabouts and require drivers to merge or weave with high-speed traffic.

On the other hand, Ritchie said, modern roundabouts use "self-enforcing geometry" to require traffic to slow down. The results, he said, show a 90-percent reduction in fatal accidents.

The first phase of the city's contract with Roundabouts & Traffic Engineering - at a cost of $94,050 - involves a feasibility study. When that portion is complete, the city would then decide whether to move ahead to the design phase, which would cost about $44,685 per roundabout.

Nietupski said the design likely would happen in conjunction with the various related road projects.

"The roundabouts would go forward when the projects are approved," he said.

One exception is the Prescott Lakes Parkway/Sundog Ranch Road roundabout, Nietupski said, which does not have a link to a future road improvement project.

The city's contract with Roundabouts & Traffic Engineering allows five months for the feasibility study.

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