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Several spots studied for possible new intersections

More St. Croix County drivers will be driving in circles if Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials move ahead with their plans.

Several intersections along Hwy. 65 and one along Hwy. 64 have been identified as potential candidates for new roundabouts.

"Four Corners," at the intersection of Hwys. 64, 63 and 46 east of New Richmond, will likely be the next location for a four-legged, traffic-control system. Officials hope to install a roundabout there in 2012.

The intersection of Hwy. 65 and County Road G (near Ready Randy's Restaurant) is also a possible location for a roundabout. That could be constructed sometime in 2012 as well.

The St. Croix County Traffic Safety Commission has already endorsed that spot for a roundabout addition.

Other intersections being considered for new roundabouts are along Hwy. 65 at County Road TT, Hwy. 12 northwest and Hwy. 12 northeast. They are all near Roberts.

Tim Ramberg, St. Croix County highway commission, said his initial reaction to the roundabout proliferation was that it was "overkill."

But after talking to WisDOT officials, he sees the wisdom in their use along the Hwy. 65 corridor.

"I see it as an interim step to a four-lane highway," he said. "By the time the highway (Hwy. 65) is expanded, the roundabouts will have fulfilled their purpose."

The state highway is scheduled to be expanded from two lanes to four sometime in the next 15 to 25 years, according to DOT officials.

Roundabouts have been getting a lot of attention in recent years.

The first "modern roundabouts" were constructed in Las Vegas in 1991. Those early projects have proven very successful and their use has exploded.

The roundabouts are gaining popularity because of their safety record (76 percent reduction in injury accidents over a traditional intersection) and their affordability (about $600,000 to install with minimal maintenance required after completion).

Speeds are reduced within the roundabout circle, meaning any accidents that do occur are less severe.

Greg Helgeson, DOT traffic safety engineer, said roundabouts are quickly becoming the preferred choice for intersection re-construction projects.

Wisconsin, Minnesota and New York transportation departments have all adopted roundabouts as the "default" choice when comparing them with traffic lights or traffic signs.

He said another selling point, beyond safety improvements, is vehicles aren't having to wait at a stop light or sign for long periods of time, improving fuel efficiency.

"Safety is obviously the number one reason for roundabouts," Helgeson said. "Plus it's a very efficient way to move traffic. With gas prices the way they are, that's something we want to think about."

Helgeson said it's likely about 150 roundabouts will be constructed through Wisconsin over the next six to 10 years.

"We're strongly behind roundabouts," Helgeson said.

Helgeson said he expects many more states to make roundabouts the preferred option, due to safety and cost concerns.

Ramberg would like to see a more measured approach, however.

"They're good for certain situations," Ramberg said. "But I hope we'll be selective on where we put them."

Hudson roundabouts

St. Croix County touts two roundabouts at the present time. Both are in the Hudson area.

According to Ramberg, local officials have had a couple problems with roundabouts currently installed in the area. They have suggested several improvements to future roundabouts now that motorists have had several years to try them out.

The single-lane roundabouts are designed to accommodate one vehicle, Ramberg said, but allow extra space for semi-trucks, emergency vehicles and other large rigs to navigate them easily.

The interior "apron" is designed to discourage car and pick-up drivers from moving in too close to the center. But the sloped apron gives larger vehicles extra room to maneuver.

The previous roundabouts, Ramberg said, had an apron that was sloped too much for large vehicles to operate effectively. Future roundabouts will have less of a slope, he said.

State and St. Croix County officials are also pushing for better signage for motorists approaching a roundabout intersection. Current signs are confusing (arrows in a circular pattern), Ramberg said. WisDOT and the St. Croix County traffic commissioner have been working on a different sign, a center island with a fish-hook arrow around it, and have installed them locally.

"We had to request special permission from the Federal Highway Administration to use the fishhook signs," Helgeson said.

The signs are more descriptive to the eye and are currently installed at Hwy. 35 and Hanley Road. Helgeson said they are required to follow the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which does not include the fish-hook sign. However, since they received authorization it can temporarily be used at these locations.

Helgeson said the manual is scheduled for an update next year and will hopefully include a revision of the sign.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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