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Guest views: Lawmakers should put brakes on anti-roundabout bill

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September 9, 2013

If you are your own lawyer, you have a fool for a client. That proverb speaks to the wisdom of using experts when their expertise is called for.

This wisdom, however, is lost in a proposal before the Wisconsin Legislature dealing with roundabouts, circular intersections that have been replacing stop-and-go junctions at a rapid rate.

The proposal, Assembly Bill 274 and Senate Bill 243, would carve out an exception to the practice of using state Department of Transportation experts to determine the design of highway projects. For roundabouts, the decision-making would shift to the local government, which would have to grant approval before the DOT could construct the roundabout.

Supporters insist the proposal promotes local control. But because the legislation targets roundabouts and only roundabouts, it is really more about picking sides in the controversies that roundabouts frequently incite.

Moreover, the proposal picks the wrong side.

Wisconsin has more than 200 roundabouts. Roundabouts are growing in use because the evidence demonstrates that, when sited appropriately, they are safer and move traffic more efficiently. A UW-Madison study on 24 Wisconsin roundabouts found a 52 percent reduction in fatal crashes when compared to stop-and-go intersections.

Despite the evidence of life-saving benefits, new roundabouts often generate initial disdain among drivers who are unaccustomed to the new decision-making at the intersection. The reaction usually softens as drivers get used to the traffic flow and understand the benefits. But statewide resistance still runs high.

Wisconsin's process for determining when and where to build roundabouts is sound. DOT's engineers and officials study the pros and cons. They use their expertise to make plans. They then seek public input through a review process.

In fact, in at least one case—at Highway 164 and Interstate 43—DOT decided against a roundabout after receiving public input.

This process fairly allows for consideration of local viewpoints. But it permits DOT's experts to make scientifically informed decisions, even if they are initially unpopular. The result can be safer, more efficient intersections.

The process is not infallible. But would it be improved by injecting local governments as the final decision makers? No.

A better process is not the proposal's aim. The goal is to create an extra opportunity to block roundabouts by taking advantage of local governments, where politics and emotional appeals may triumph over evidence and expertise. The result could be costly.

Legislators should reject this anti-roundabout bill and let the state make use of its experts.

--Wisconsin State Journal

 



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