Roundabout plan dumped

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011
— In an about-face move, the Janesville City Council on Monday failed to approve a long-planned roundabout at the corners of Milwaukee Street and Wuthering Hills Drive.

Tom McDonald, Deb Dongarra-Adams and Yuri Rashkin voted against the roundabout, saying it is no longer needed at that location. Sam Liebert, Kathy Voskuil and Russ Steeber voted in favor of the roundabout.

The vote was tied because former council President George Brunner recently resigned, leaving the seventh council seat vacant. The council opted to keep Brunner's seat open until the April election.

The push to build a roundabout began after a fatal accident at the intersection in 2007. The cost to build the roundabout was $615,000, and a safety grant from the state whittled the city's portion of the bill down to $220,000.

Recently, the city reduced the number of lanes on that section of Milwaukee Street to enhance safety for a bike crossing just to the east.

Last month, residents appeared before the council and testified that the improvements had increased safety at the intersection, and that the roundabout was no longer needed.

But city staff disagreed, and Carl Weber, the city's public works director, said roundabouts are safer than traditional intersections because they reduce points of conflict from 16 to four. The roundabouts also reduce fatal accidents by 80 percent, reduce congestion and save fuel, he added.

Weber said improvements to the east have reduced speed only slightly. He did acknowledge that only one accident with no injuries has occurred there in the last four years.

"Is the intersection safer?" he asked. "The perception is it must be safer than before, but really we couldn't prove it," he said.

Weber said the city would be responsible for $78,000 the state already spent on the project and another $27,000 for resurfacing. Work will be done on the street in the near future, and that section could have been improved when the roundabout was built, he said.

Steeber supported roundabouts in general and said people don't like them because they don't like change.

"We spent a lot of money to solve a problem, and past councils said, 'Yeah, that is the direction we're going to go' and suddenly, for whatever reason, we reverse ourselves," he said.

"If we do nothing, the city is essentially wasting $105,000 with no real resolution to the intersection problems," he said.

Liebert agreed, calling roundabouts the future of many controlled intersections. A roundabout at the Milwaukee Street/Wuthering Hills

Drive intersection would help residents learn to navigate them, he said.

"If we can save one more life, the investment is worth it," he said.

The city might have to pay some money to the state, but eliminating the roundabout would save the both the city and state money in the long run, McDonald said. He added that state money is taxpayer money, as well.

Dongarra-Adams said she is not afraid of change, but she doesn't believe a roundabout is needed at the intersection.

Rashkin said he lives near the intersection and has seen the positive changes from nearby roadwork.

All three council members voting in favor of a roundabout expressed disappointment after the vote.

"I'm really struggling," Voskuil said, noting the council seemed to go from being very concerned about the intersection to not being concerned.

Liebert and Steeber predicted the intersection would be a problem in the future, and Steeber admonished the council for reversing what past councils have done.

"Injury accidents can happen anywhere," McDonald said.

McDonald also noted that nearby residents say the problems have been solved, there have been no major accidents and speed has been reduced.

It is not uncommon for council members to change their minds as different information is brought forward, he said.

"Votes can always change," McDonald said. "Everyone should look at the facts of the issue."

Last updated: 7:07 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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