Janesville roundabout plan detoured

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011
— A roundabout at the corner of Wuthering Hills Drive and Milwaukee Street is not the done deal it once was.

The Janesville City Council voted 4 to 1 on Monday to take a second look at the safety issues and the cost of installing a traffic light there instead of a roundabout. Only Councilwoman Kathy Voskuil voted to begin negotiations with landowners so the city could build the roundabout.

Councilman Russ Steeber was absent. Council President George Brunner recently resigned.

The Wuthering Hills intersection was the site of a traffic fatality in 2007.

But that area of Milwaukee Street also includes a bike crossing just to the west of Wuthering Hills that some have also deemed unsafe. The council in 2006 voted to build a tunnel, but the cost eventually ballooned to about $720,000.

The city's new public works director, Carl Weber, suggested narrowing the traffic lanes from four to two and building a pedestrian island in the middle to improve safety at the bike crossing. The council agreed to those changes in 2010.

The council also received state and federal grants of $395,000 to build a roundabout at Wuthering Hills to improve safety. The city's cost is $290,000.

Three residents Monday urged the council to reconsider the roundabout, saying the bike crossing improvements already fixed the problem.

Several council members said they have received many negative comments from residents about the roundabout.

Paul Williams, 2426 N. Lexington Drive, said a roundabout is no longer needed.

"I just can't see spending the money and trying to fit it in and trying to solve a problem that I don't think is there," he said.

Serious accidents happen all over, but the city can't build roundabouts at them all, he said.

Roundabouts make more sense in new areas, Williams added.

Mike McCarthy, 4121 Bordeaux Drive, likened building the roundabout to building a fence after the horse runs away.

Chris Ranum said it would be unfortunate that one accident caused by a reckless driver would so affect a community. He called the roundabout an "obstacle."

"I can't see spending that kind of money," he said, adding that neither the city or the state and federal governments have it.

Eric Levitt, city manager, suggested the council delay a vote until Monday, Dec. 12, when staff can study whether the city would face any liability if a future accident occurs when a safety problem was documented.

Weber said the bike crossing improvements haven't been there long enough to prove a safety effect down the road. He predicted that those people protesting the roundabout would be like the same people who on Monday admitted they had doubted the bike crossing improvements but were wrong.

Deb Dongarra-Adams, who joined the council in April, wondered whether the city could put in a stoplight rather than a roundabout.

Councilman Tom McDonald, who voted for the roundabout, said he has changed his opinion.

"Now that I've seen the engineering, I see the roundabout doesn't fit," he said.

"The changes have taken care of the majority of the problems out there," McDonald said. "Nothing that happens out there can't be corrected by a much less expensive traffic signal. I would like to see us pull the plug on the roundabout and move to a traffic signal.

"Hopefully, there are plenty of other places where we can put a roundabout where it actually fits."

Councilman Yuri Rashkin agreed that a roundabout does not belong at this location.

"I don't understand how they can help this stretch," he said. "I frankly don't even support the idea of having additional street controlling devices right now.

"Narrowing the road to one lane each way has slowed traffic down sufficiently to where I feel it is comfortable."

Last updated: 6:55 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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