Cold weather has forced construction crews to wait until spring to put the finishing touches on the highway roundabout at Airport Road.
However, that hasn’t stopped people from complaining about changes made in the town’s other highway roundabout — this one in front of Home Depot.
Construction crews building the new Airport Road roundabout added on an addition project to put an island to narrow the approach and slow traffic coming into town on the highway from the direction of Pine.
Town Engineer LaRon Garrett said the island and lane stripping on the Home Depot roundabout were added to force highway traffic entering the roundabout from the north after a series of near-accidents caused by the failure of drivers on the highway to yield the right of way to people already in the roundabout.
“The way that roundabout was originally constructed didn’t force people to slow down enough,” said Garrett.
“The changes are intended to give the highway traffic a better chance to slow down. If you’re in the roundabout, you have the right of way,” but drivers on the highway weren’t yielding, he said.
Garrett said that the town had gotten a number of complaints from drivers about the redesign.
Previously the highway approach from the north only had one lane, but it was wide and unstriped. The road striping still creates two lanes within the roundabout itself, but drivers have complained of near misses as they crowd into the merge into the roundabout.
“There’s only one lane north of the roundabout — so if highway drivers are approaching the roundabout in two lanes, they’re actually not driving properly,” said Garrett.
Meantime, construction crews will wait until spring to put the finishing touches on the new roundabout at Airport Road.
The Arizona Department of Transportation will pay almost the entire cost of the million-dollar project, but Payson will have to come up with $35,000 for the installation of streetlights around the project.
The council approved the changes on Thursday, since the town’s share of the total project cost is already in the current budget.
The roundabout needs another layer of asphalt and a few other touches, like pedestrian crossing lights. However, the asphalt won’t set properly with freezing night-time temperatures, so crews will hold off on finishing the project until the spring, Garrett wrote in a memo to the town council.
Arizona Public Service actually installed the lights, then billed the town for the cost. The council has to vote to approve any expenditure over $25,000, even if it’s already included in the budget.
The construction work on the highway project has caused relatively few problems, aside from the extended closure of Airport Road.
Critics have questioned the need for the expensive project, given the lack of traffic backups currently at that intersection. Moreover, some drivers have complained of difficulties in navigating through the existing roundabout near Home Depot.
However, research suggests that roundabouts move traffic much more efficiently than intersections with traffic lights and that the accident rate in a roundabout is much lower than in an intersection with signals.
One study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety examined the impact of converting 10 intersections from signals to roundabouts in northern Virginia.
The researchers documented major improvements in traffic flow and sharp drops in accidents in intersections controlled by roundabouts.
Traffic delays drop by 62 percent to 74 percent, which each year saved 300,000 hours of vehicle delay and 200,000 gallons of gasoline.
Applying the accident statistics to the accident rate for four years before the roundabouts were completed, the researchers concluded that the roundabouts prevented 16 accidents annually, 10 of them injury-accidents.
Another Institute study concluded that the installation of roundabouts reduces crashes by 40 percent and injury-accidents by 80 percent, since when people do crash in a roundabout they’re usually driving at a much lower speed than in an intersection with a signal.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates that 40 percent of all traffic congestion occurs at bottlenecks like intersections.
In the nation’s 85 largest urban areas, traffic congestion causes 3.5 billion hours of delay and wastes 5.7 billion gallons of gasoline.