The city of Fairhope will be home to the next two roundabouts to be installed on County Road 13, coming next spring.
Baldwin County engineer Cal Markert presented plans for a single-lane traffic roundabout to be placed at the intersection of County Road 13 and Fairhope Avenue at the City Council’s work session May 11. Markert expects to begin construction on utilities in September, with roadwork on the roundabout beginning in January. He estimated that the project would be complete by next June.
The intersection averages about 15,000 vehicles daily, Markert said, projecting a 2 percent annual increase. He cited a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) study showing a 76 percent reduction in injury crashes and 35 percent reduction in all crashes at intersections that switch from traditional design to single-lane roundabouts.
“That’s what really pushed us to start doing this,” he said. “Part of the design process is trying to get people to slow down before they get to the circle. Instead of making it straight through, you put these curves in there to slow people down.”
The bulk of the project’s estimated $1 million price tag will be provided through a grant from the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP), with the city responsible for a 20 percent match.
In July 2013, Gov. Robert Bentley approved nearly $13 million in ATRIP funds for road projects in Baldwin County. Along with money for other traffic projects in the county, funds were approved for the roundabouts and a paving project on Fairhope Avenue from Bancroft to State Highway 181.
The roundabout at Fairhope Avenue and County Road 13 will be the third of its kind on the Eastern Shore. The first was constructed in Daphne at the intersection of Whispering Pines and Pollard Road near the Bounds Family YMCA and the other is under construction at county roads 64 and 13.
Later, a fourth will be constructed at the intersection of Gayfer Road Extension and County Road 13 at a cost of around $750,000, as estimated by the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Markert told the council that some variables could push back the schedule and that planning for construction has been complicated by utilities at the intersection. The bidding process has already been pushed from the spring to the fall.
“Every time we would go out there and get the utilities located some fiber company would come back and say they had fiber lines in there,” Markert said. “We ended up with five or six fiber lines in there, which also increased our cost a little bit.”
An FHWA study, which the county touted as a reason for roundabout construction, shows that roundabouts are safer, more economical and better for the environment than traditional intersections.
The study shows there are fewer conflict points — areas where drivers could encounter other vehicles — in a roundabout compared to traditional intersections. Right angle and left turn head-on collisions are virtually eliminated in a single-lane roundabout. The study also found that roundabouts lower drivers’ speeds and allow drivers more time to react to potential crashes. Crash severity is also lowered because of slower speeds.
The study also shows that pedestrians are safer in a roundabout because they only cross one direction of traffic at a time. Markert said the roundabouts are more efficient and cut vehicle idling time, thereby reducing air pollution as well.
“Fuel consumption is less because you won’t be sitting there stopped at a red light when there’s nobody around,” he said.
Markert said that while ALDOT will not pay to landscape the roundabout’s center island, the county encourages the city to do so. The FHWA study shows that landscaping can make it safer overall because it makes the roundabout more conspicuous, clearly indicates to the driver that they cannot pass straight through the intersection and discourages pedestrians from trying to walk or bike through the center.
The study did show that while landscaping can reduce the number of accidents at the roundabout, it also can increase the severity of single-vehicle crashes in the center island.
“Flowers, trees, whatever you want to do would be great,” Markert said. “If people can look across the island and see oncoming traffic, it can be distracting. It doesn’t have to be a jungle, but some landscaping helps.”
While the study shows that more single-vehicle accidents occur at roundabouts when drivers fail to yield to others coming from the left or drive off the road, the severity of those crashes is low.
“The beauty of a roundabout is that once you learn that all you have to do is look left, it gets really safe for everyone,” Markert said.
Council President Jack Burrell and Mayor Tim Kant expressed concerns about road construction making traffic worse near Fairhope Intermediate School, which sits at the corner of Fairhope Avenue and Bishop Road, just one block away from the roundabout’s location.
Markert assured the council that the county would be in communication with the school in advance of construction.
“Just get ready for phone calls, because they are going to come,” Kant said.
The roundabout project comes at a time when Fairhope is trying to revamp some of its roadways to comply with a commitment to “complete streets” policies, which emphasize making cities more friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians. In 2009, Fairhope was the first city in the state to pass a “complete streets” resolution.
In March, the city began installing green medians on Fairhope Avenue from School Street to Greeno Road. The city is also adding pedestrian crossings, bike lanes and additional parking before the summer, when ALDOT is scheduled to pave the road from Bancroft Street to State Highway 181.