AP NEWS

Roundabouts becoming popular in Iowa

December 23, 2018

ALTOONA, Iowa (AP) — Traffic jams on Adventureland Drive have improved since Altoona replaced a four-way stop at 34th Street with a roundabout earlier this month.

“It’s far quicker leaving and getting home at night,” said Kevin Hecker, a parts manager at Peterbilt of Des Moines. “Not stopping there keeps it flowing.”

Once rare in Iowa, roundabouts are seeing a surge in popularity in the state.

Pleasant Hill opened the city’s first roundabout in December. Johnston opened its 11th roundabout in October.

“I think that the needle has moved,” said Jan Laaser-Webb, a state safety engineer with the Iowa Department of Transportation. “Large cities and suburban growing areas are embracing them as a choice.”

The Iowa DOT counted 62 roundabouts in the state as of August. And more are in the works, Laaser-Webb told the Des Moines Register .

Proponents of the circular intersections tout smoother traffic flow and safety as their primary advantages. Roundabouts slow traffic and reduce the chances for head-on and T-bone collisions since traffic doesn’t enter the intersection at 90-degree angle, according to the DOT.

Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have shown that roundabouts can reduce fatal crashes by 90 percent and injury accidents by 76 percent.

And while the cost of construction is comparable to a signalized intersection, roundabouts have far fewer ongoing maintenance costs, making them less expensive to operate.

Laaser-Webb said roundabouts work well in areas where traffic counts fluctuate between peak times and lulls, such as near schools. Some cities, like Johnston, use them along major thoroughfares while others, like Ankeny, have them primarily in residential areas.

Roundabouts have taken some time for the public and some city leaders to accept, she said, but increased exposure to them is helping their cause.

Iowa has eased into roundabout construction over the past two decades, which has also allowed time for designs to improve and for their integration to fit well into the communities, Laaser-Webb said.

Johnston Public Works Director Matt Greiner said officials there “had to warm up to the idea” of roundabouts before the city installed a series of the intersections along Northwest 62nd Avenue in 2012.

Since then, they’ve helped relieve congestion on the busy east-west thoroughfare near Johnston Middle School and the Dow DuPont headquarters, where Johnston police used to direct traffic every afternoon.

“It’s helped lessen the delays,” Greiner said.

The city has since added more roundabouts on Northwest 100th Street and Northwest 70th Avenue. Its 11 roundabouts are now the most in the state followed by Coralville with 10.

Pleasant Hill’s first roundabout was part of a $2.8 million project to reconstruct Northeast 70th Street from University Avenue to Rising Sun Drive. The city plans to commission a public sculpture to place in the center next year.

One detractor of the project is Bill Wonderlich, a farmer and developer who lives directly to the east of the roundabout. Wonderlich said his wife, Jane, owns an in-home cosmetology business called Country Cosmo that brings in 10 to 15 people a day, many of them are older residents who are not fans of the intersection.

Wonderlich said he isn’t against roundabouts altogether but doesn’t think this was the right location since much of the traffic travels straight through the intersection.

“It seems to me like they wanted to get the first roundabout into the city and this is where they wanted to put it,” he said.

Pleasant Hill Community Development Director Madeline Sturms said the city sees the roundabout as a way to calm traffic traveling from the commercial area along University Avenue into the residential area to the south.

“It’s a great way to slow cars down before they’re entering a neighborhood,” she said. “And it allows for a continuous flow of traffic without having to sit at a stoplight or a stop sign.”

City spokeswoman Candace Bell said she’s heard mixed reviews. People feel strongly both ways, she said.

Sturms said the city will consider adding more roundabouts with future projects.

Laaser-Webb said she expects to continue to see more roundabout projects throughout the state, although she doesn’t think Iowa will experience rampant roundabout construction.

“It won’t be super exponential growth,” she said. “But they are definitely now on the list of intersection types that our cities are looking at.”

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com