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1:50 AM Wed, Nov. 14th

Study indicates new roundabouts are feasible

PRESCOTT - Installing roundabouts at a half-dozen intersections in Prescott would be a "definite winner" when it comes to traffic capacity and safety, according to a consultant who spent months studying the topic.

Scott Ritchie, roundabout specialist with the consultant firm Roundabouts & Traffic Engineering, reported to the Prescott City Council on Tuesday on the feasibility of installing roundabouts at six intersections in Prescott.

After looking at a number of issues, including traffic projections and accident figures, the study concluded that roundabouts would be preferable to traffic signals at all six.

"We did have a superior capacity on most all of the intersections," Ritchie said of the results of the computer comparison of roundabouts and traffic signals. He added that roundabouts would also help cut down on accidents, and especially the severity of the crashes.

"Most accidents that occur at a roundabout are fender-benders," Ritchie said. "There is a 90-percent reduction in fatalities."

The idea of roundabouts has raised some skepticism in the community in the past, however. When the Arizona Department of Transportation installed the community's first modern roundabout at Highway 89 and Willow Lake Road two years ago, many local residents protested.

But officials maintain the roundabout has worked well, and has dramatically cut down on accident injuries.

Even so, Councilwoman Mary Ann Suttles said she still hears complaints about the roundabout.

"I think the presentation looks like a win-win, but to get our citizens to drive through a roundabout is the downside," Suttles said. She asked Ritchie what Prescott could do to make the idea more acceptable to the community.

Ritchie maintained that education is key to acceptance. He pointed out that Chico, Calif., recently installed 20 roundabouts. To prepare the community, he said, "We put out a brochure on how to drive through a roundabout."

While roundabouts would better handle traffic capacity and decrease fatalities, Ritchie acknowledged that they likely would be more expensive than traffic signals to install.

"The costs are 20 percent higher for roundabouts versus traffic signals," Ritchie said. Offsetting that somewhat is the lower cost of operation and maintenance. Communities regularly spend about $5,500 per year to maintain a traffic signal, while a roundabout would have no such costs.

The local roundabouts that Ritchie studied included:

• Highway 89 and a realigned Ruger Road.

• Highway 89 and the future Side Road connector (near the Phippen Museum).

• Willow Creek Road and the future Park West development.

• Highway 89A and the future Side Road interchange.

• Prescott Lakes Parkway and Sundog Ranch Road.

• Prescott Lakes Parkway and the future Sundog connector.

Engineering Services Director Mark Nietupski pointed out that the schedule for installation of the roundabouts would depend on the prioritization of the related road projects.

The first roundabouts likely to reach completion are the twin structures at the Highway 89A/Side Road interchange - a project that is currently under design and should reach construction by summer 2009.

The next in line, Nietupski said, are likely two roundabouts on Highway 89 - one at the future Side Road connector; and another at Ruger Road.

The city's original contract with the Roundabouts & Traffic Engineering firm was for $362,160, of which $94,050 went for the feasibility study. The design would add another $44,685 per roundabout.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com