Our Views: State wise to inform motorists about new roundabouts

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Those who shudder at the thought of navigating those newfangled roundabouts on Racine Street at Interstate 90/39 in Janesville should keep the words of police Sgt. Brian Donohoue in mind.

“The biggest thing is that traffic entering the roundabouts has to yield to traffic already in the roundabouts,” he told reporter Jim Leute in last Sunday's Gazette.

That might be simplistic on these complicated roundabouts, one on each side of the new Racine Street bridge over the Interstate, especially when each circle will have traffic exiting and entering the freeway. As a state official told Leute, in one of the understatements of the year, these roundabouts will be quite different from the one adjacent to Janesville's Menards. Keep Donohoue's advice in mind, however, and you'll go far toward staying safe and sound.

Those using the intersection, however, have been dealing with much worse for months. With a maze of orange barricades and barrels and construction signs and changing pathways, motorists have been known to make wrong turns or miss exits. It's a wonder accidents haven't been frequent.

Given reasonable weather, however, those construction signs might be gone by Thanksgiving. If so, anyone who must travel through the intersection will give thanks.

Be thankful, as well, for the state Department of Transportation's educational outreach efforts. After all, many or most of the hundreds of workers and patients using St. Mary's Janesville Hospital and Dean Clinic Janesville East must either use the roundabouts or drive longer alternative routes. Some health care workers have been getting earfuls from patients.

State officials also are reaching out to businesses just off Racine Street east of the Interstate, as well as Craig High School students. Roundabout information is available at the hospital and clinic, at Hedberg Public Library, City Hall and the Janesville Visitors' Center.

These new roundabouts feature double lanes to better accommodate big trucks exiting and entering the Interstate. They also include “slip lanes” designed to keep some traffic off the circles.

Despite these features and the educational efforts, some defiant motorists, particularly older drivers, say they'll never be convinced roundabouts make sense.

State officials, however, have data to back up their drive to build them. They say roundabouts have reduced crashes by 9 percent and, more important, fatal and injury accidents by 52 percent. That's because roundabouts reduce speeds and all but eliminate head-on and T-bone collisions.

Those still tepid about dipping their toes in this transportation trend should consider trying the new roundabouts once the barricades come down. First read a brochure or online transportation guide if you lack confidence. Then drive the roundabouts in daylight hours, perhaps at midmorning or some other time when you expect light traffic. Motorists at ease with roundabouts should be patient and alert for confused or hesitant drivers.

Sure, Racine Street at the Interstate might be the scene of a few fender benders until drivers get used to the roundabouts. A year or two from now, however, critics might well wonder what they got all worked up about.

Last updated: 8:24 am Saturday, November 16, 2013

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