Safe and sound: DOT launches roundabout education effort

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Jim Leute
Saturday, November 9, 2013

JANESVILLE--Efforts to educate drivers about how to navigate the double-roundabout interchange at Racine Street and Interstate 90/39 will continue after construction is finished later this month, officials said.

“Roundabouts are relatively new to Janesville, so we want to make sure that people understand the concept and are as comfortable with them as they can be,” said Steven Theisen, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Construction started on the $10.6 million project in mid-June and should be completed—weather permitting—by Thanksgiving.

In advance of that, the department has reached out to businesses in the area, as well as their employees and visitors.

They include St. Mary's Janesville Hospital and Dean Clinic Janesville East, just to the southeast of the new intersection.

On any given day, the medical campus welcomes 500 to 700 employees, plus hundreds of others keeping medical appointments or visiting others.

“We've been working with DOT since the start, and they've been absolutely wonderful,” said Joan Neeno, a St. Mary's spokeswoman.

Display boards and brochures are available at the facility, and thanks to routine DOT updates, Dean employees have been able to keep patients aware of the project when making appointment reminder calls.

The department has made presentations at the hospital and clinic, as well as at Blain Supply to the north. It also has made roundabout safety information available at other area businesses, including the Baymont Hotel and Denny's Restaurant.

“There is a learning curve with roundabouts, and we've been trying to keep the awareness up,” Theisen said. “While the basic concept is similar, all roundabouts are unique, particularly with the roads they intersect.

“It will be quite different with two roundabouts on a state highway at an Interstate than it will be for the roundabout at Menards.”

Theisen said the department has made roundabout information available at the Hedberg Public Library, the Janesville Visitors' Center and the municipal building.

This week, staffers will address sophomores, juniors and seniors at Craig Senior High School.

The department has worked with the Janesville Police Department, and has sent staff members to address officers at shift-change briefings.

Sgt. Brian Donohue said he's been avoiding the Racine Street construction zone “like the plague,” but he's learned some things through the DOT's outreach efforts.

“The biggest thing is that traffic entering the roundabouts has to yield to traffic already in the roundabouts,” Donohue said.

Police will give the area added attention as construction crews clear out, he said.

Donohue said roundabout speeds will likely be lower, but traffic capacities will be higher. Fewer crashes are expected, and they likely will be minor.

“I would suspect that most of the citations written at that intersection will be for failure to yield and unsafe lane deviation,” he said. “It's a new thing, and we know there's a learning curve to it.”

Theisen said the roundabouts are expected to reduce speed and the number of conflict points at the intersection. They also eliminate head-on and right-angle collisions because of the counterclockwise movements.

State data indicate roundabouts have contributed to a 52 percent reduction in fatal or injury crashes and a 9 percent decrease in overall crashes, he said.

Theisen said the department has always tried to make safety information available through either its driver's handbooks or its website.

The outreach effort tied to the Racine Street project, however, is more extensive, he said.

“The strategy is definitely more extensive with this project, Theisen said. “We're really trying to cover all the bases.

“Things have gone pretty well so far through the construction, but it's something new, and it will take some time to get used to. Confusion is inevitable.”

In recent months, the new roundabouts combined with construction barrels, flashing lights and work crews have created confusion for motorists, some of whom made turns they didn't want to make or simply stopped in the roundabouts.

Theisen said the outreach effort would continue as construction starts in 2015 on the mainline Interstate, which is being expanded form the Illinois state line to the Beltline in Madison.

The Interstate's intersections with highways 26 and 14 on the city's north side will feature different types of designs that also will be backed up with heavy doses of education, he said.

Those intersections include many more businesses, and Theisen said the department would routinely reach out to the business community.

Neeno said the department's outreach on the southern project has been outstanding.

“They've been so helpful in terms of keeping us informed, but they've also done a great job in responding to us,” she said. “As a hospital, we can't have any access routes blocked off.

“We have to be able to get ambulances to the hospital, and they've been great with that.”

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