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Strong opposition voiced at DOT meeting over plans for roundabout in Alabama

By Virginia Kropf

(Officials from the State DOT at the Alabama Firemen’s Recreation Hall Wednesday night. From left are Jillian Button, real estate specialist with Region 4 Office of Right of Way; Paul Spitzer, regional traffic engineer; Frank Billittier, regional design engineer; Jordan Guerrein, public information officer with the DOT; and Wesley Alden, assistant regional design engineer.)

ALABAMA – The State Department of Transportation held a public information meeting Wednesday night at Alabama Firemen’s Recreation Hall to address residents’ concerns about plans to build a roundabout at the intersection of Route 77 and Ledge Road.

It was clear that 100 percent of those who spoke at the meeting are strongly opposed to the project, for a variety of reasons.

The DOT’s public information officer Jordan Guerrein said Alabama Town Supervisor Janet Sage requested the meeting to inform the public where the project stands and to take comments from local residents.

The project was initiated to address a high rate of severe accidents at the site, Guerrein said.

Between April 1, 2013 and May 31, 2018, there were 56 crashes in the area, 31 of them at the intersection. One involved a fatality. Another fatality occurred prior to 2013.

The DOT said they have considered alternative solutions and have implemented minor safety enhancements, such as upgraded signs and modified striping, but propose a modern roundabout as the best solution to the problem.

Residents were all vocal about their opposition to installing a roundabout in a 55-mile per hour speed zone at the bottom of a curve and hill. Instead there were suggestions of speed bumps on Ledge Road, a four-way stop, better lighting at the intersection, cameras, increased traffic enforcement and a signal light.

Several residents with homes at the intersection were very concerned about how close the roundabout would bring traffic to their house (one within 30 feet), the increased noise and exhaust fumes from vehicles having to slow for an extended distance and trucks accelerating to make it up the hill. 

Richard Rudolph, of Akron, who was a former Pembroke highway superintendent, said he plowed that stretch of road for more than 20 years.

“When it was snowy and slippery, trucks had a hard time getting up the hill,” Rudolph said. “Now you’re going to put an obstruction in the road and expect an 80,000 pound truck to stop on ice.”

Several voiced objections to the $1.6 million price tag to taxpayers.

“Putting in a traffic light would be a whole lot cheaper and quicker,” one resident commented. 

There were several suggestions from the crowd to reduce speed limits from Indian Falls to Alabama.

Paul Spitzer, regional traffic engineer, replied that setting lower speed limits typically results in more accidents.

“Reducing speed limits does not reduce accidents,” he said. “Reducing speeds lowers accidents, and roundabouts lower speed.”

He said the maximum speed in the roundabout would be 20 miles per hour. 

(The State DOT shared this aerial photo at left of the intersection of Route 77 and Ledge Road in the Town of Alabama during Wednesday's public information meeting. It  shows the close proximity of homes on three of the corners. At right, this design drawing shows the proposed roundabout and where a temporary road would be built to reroute traffic west on Ledge Road during construction.)

The engineers explained the roundabout would be elliptical in shape. They would meet with each of the four affected homeowners, whose properties will be appraised. They will be paid the highest market value for the portions of their land that would needed to construct the roundabout. No structures would be razed. The roundabout would come closest to the home on the southeast corner -- within 30 feet of it.

Construction of the roundabout would close the intersection for four to six weeks, engineers said. Closure will be planned to minimize impact to the school districts and local farming community.

Traffic would be detoured down routes 5 and 63 and a temporary roadway at the intersection will be used to maintain access for businesses, residents and emergency services. 

Several asked if the project was a done deal or if there was still an opportunity to stop it. Annette Johnson, who lives in the Town of Alabama, is circulating petitions opposing the roundabout.

Each person who attended Wednesday’s hearing received a comment form which they can fill out and send to the DOT in Rochester.

Guerrein said the DOT will carefully read all the comments before moving forward. The next planned step would then be an environmental hearing in early 2019 to accept any further comments. The design phase would be completed in the summer of 2019, with construction scheduled to begin in the spring of 2020.  

Roundabouts are proven to substantially reduce the severity of accidents, Alden said. Typically, they provide an 80-percent reduction in serious accidents, he said.

The final decision on building the roundabout will be made by the chief engineer of the State DOT in Albany, said Frank Billittier, regional design engineer.

(Photo below: Wesley Alden, assistant regional design engineer with the State DOT, takes comments from residents opposed to the construction of a roundabout at Route 77 and Ledge Road in the Town of Alabama during a public information hearing Wednesday night.)

Scott Batson

People using the road make mistakes (like running stop signs and red lights), always have and always will. Crashes will always be with us, but they need not result in fatalities or serious injury.

Modern roundabouts are the safest form of intersection in the world - the intersection type with the lowest risk of fatal or serious injury crashes - (much more so than comparable signals). Modern roundabouts require a change in speed and alter the geometry of one of the most dangerous parts of the system - intersections.

The reduction in speed to about 20 mph and sideswipe geometry mean that, when a crash does happen at a modern roundabout, you usually need a tow truck, not an ambulance. Visit the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for modern roundabout FAQs and safety facts. Roundabouts are one of several proven road safety features (FHWA).
The life saved may be your own.

Modern, slow and go, roundabout intersections have less daily delay than a stop light or stop sign, especially the other 20 hours a day people aren’t driving to or from work (it’s the #2 reason they’re built). Average daily delay at a signal is around 12 seconds per car. At a modern roundabout average daily delay is less than five seconds. Signals take an hour of demand and restrict it to a half hour, at best only half the traffic gets to go at any one time. 'At best' because traffic signals must have the yellow and all red portion (6+ seconds per cycle) for safety, and modern roundabouts do not. At a modern roundabout, drivers entering from different directions can all enter at the same time. Don’t try that with a signalized intersection.

Roads using signals are often widened just because of the signal delay and need to store cars waiting for a green. Roundabouts reduce such need for wider roads between roundabout intersections. A future expense avoided.

Nov 16, 2018, 3:48pm Permalink
Tim Miller

Just like any new traffic pattern, roundabouts can be a pain and take time to get familiar with. Once you are familiar with them, though, they are no more difficult than stop signs or yield signs.

Well, sort of - even after you are comfortable with them, you have to deal with others' not knowing what to do with them... but that's just another matter of time.

First time I went back to Batavia after they had installed the roundabout where Rt33 meets South Main (?) it was a bit of a shock, but it seemed to work perfectly fine with folks who know how to drive (ie know the rules surrounding roundabouts).

Nov 17, 2018, 8:50am Permalink
Frank Bartholomew

I can say this, since the installation of a roundabout at Oak and S, Main in Batavia, I have saved hours of time at that intersection compared to stopping at the stop sign that was on S.Main.

Nov 18, 2018, 11:54am Permalink
Brian Graz

A roundabout in the middle of farm country on a straight flat 55mph stretch of open highway... ? This is so stupid I can't even believe it's being considered. That's not a blind intersection from any side, so why so many accidents? (I haven't been keeping track, but 56 crashes in the area in just 2 months???) I travel thru the Ledge/Rt77 intersection regularly. I suggest that those accidents (like many) are a result of distracted driving, coupled with a high amount of traffic on the Ledge Rd traveling to and from the Reservation, which all too often I've observed that traffic being in a big hurray, speeding, tailgating, and distracted (texting, car full of passengers, lighting a cigarette, etc).

One fatality in 5 years and so now the state needs to impose eminent domain, inconvenience traffic on a main highway (Rt77), and change the road... If this is a new criteria, NYers better get their check books out, because Andy's Albany will certainly be looking for more tax dollars to redo state roads wherever there is a fatal accident. Just recall how many areas you can think of where there have been several serious/fatal crashes in the past. (The two that immediately come to my mind are; Rt63 in the Stafford/E.Bethany stretch, and Rt20/East Rd intersection). No roundabouts been put in there... Why not implement some of the other possible remedies that would be much easier and quicker to install (40mph reduced speed zone in all directions with increased Sheriff and SP patrols in the area to make the awareness obvious).

This is just more of the government overreach to protect us from ourselves.

Nov 20, 2018, 12:19pm Permalink
Frank Bartholomew

BS, No names mentioned, and I fail to see a personal insult, I was just being honest.

Nov 24, 2018, 7:17pm Permalink

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