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March 17, 2021
By Michelle Mann
The Southeast Sun
A way to add a measure of safety to what has been called a “dangerous intersection” is in the works. The Alabama Department of Transportation has awarded $2 million to construct the first roundabout in Coffee County at the intersection of Highway 27 North and Shell Field Road. A type of circular intersection with traffic moving counter clockwise around a center island to reach one of the roads converging on to it, roundabouts are being built increasingly in this state because statistics show them to be safer than traditional intersections.
A third roundabout is currently being built in Dothan, one is being built outside Andalusia, one is under contract in Auburn and two are in the design phase in Opelika. “Roundabouts are becoming more prevalent in the state because of the data that is out there,” Enterprise City Administrator Jonathan Tullos said, adding that because roundabouts are not yet common in the area, some mistake traffic circles for roundabouts.
Tullos compared entering a true roundabout to driving on the ingress of an interstate. The reality is that some older traffic circles are being converted to true roundabouts for safety and operational improvements. Roundabouts have 90 percent less fatalities, 76 percent fewer injuries and 35 percent less crashes compared to other types of intersections, said Tullos, as he explained the history of the intersection being able to obtain state funding for a roundabout.
Safety is a key word connected with that intersection that has been in the news since the Enterprise City Council approved a recommendation from the city planning commission to rezone the farm land to commercial. A Dollar General store was subsequently built at the intersection that citizens called “an already dangerous intersection” in several public hearings on the rezone request. Highway 27 is state—not city—owned and maintained.
The intersection has been the source of numerous vehicle crashes over the years, said Tullos. “The bottom line, to me, is that the city council was presented with a situation as they were considering rezoning some property for the Dollar General. That council made a commitment to the public that they would do something to address safety at that intersection. “What the administration did was go to State Rep. Rhett Marques, State Sen. Jimmy Holley and ALDOT and tell them that the city does not own this road but it is a severe safety issue and that they had promised their constituents to do something to address this,” Tullos explained. “ALDOT studied all the issues and their people who are are trained in traffic data analysis came back with a solution that was a roundabout,” he added. “While some people may agree or disagree with it, the data speaks for itself. I commend ALDOT for coming up with a plan and for paying for it,” Tullos said. “This is a $3 million project.”
The funding is through ALDOT’s ATRIP-II and Highway Safety Improvement Program funds. The city of Enterprise has committed to providing the preliminary engineering and design cost. The Alabama Department of Transportation has performed vehicle accident analysis at this location and determined this intersection was eligible for federal funds under the HSIP Program for safety improvements, Tullos said. However, those funds would not become available until FY 2026 or later.
“The mayor and council were not satisfied to wait until 2026, or beyond, to improve this intersection out of fear for additional severe or fatal accidents,” said Tullos. “In November 2020, the mayor and council tasked CDG Engineers to prepare an Alabama Transportation Improvement Program-II (ATRIP-II) application for funding for this intersection.”
Tullos said that in January 2021, the ATRIP-II Committee approved the city’s ATRIP-II application. The city was granted the $ 2 million maximum allowed under the ATRIP-II program. The estimated construction cost of the project was approximately $3 million. ALDOT committed to provide the project with Highway Safety Improvement Program funds for the additional required $1 million. “The city’s willingness to fund the preliminary engineering and this required two-year limitation allowed ALDOT the flexibility to move HSIP funding forward to present day,” Tullos explained.
Tullos said that the roundabout is still in the design process. Other pre-construction activities include environmental studies, right-of-way acquisition assessment, and roadway construction plan assembly and typically require one year to complete.
“An additional 12 months would likely be required to construct the project under current traffic conditions,” Tullos said. “Actual construction is anticipated to begin in the latter part of Fiscal Year 2022.”
Part of Highway 27 in Enterprise from the Boll Weevil Circle to the Dale County line is currently under construction as part of an unrelated project, Tullos said. Not even one quarter of a mile of that road will be re-torn up to construct the roundabout.
“So we will be able to use that newly reconstructed road for however long it takes to construct the roundabout.” True roundabouts are designed to accommodate vehicles with a wide or long wheelbase including fire trucks, school busses and semi-trucks. “This will be a massive infrastructure project,” he added. “I can’t tell you exactly what it will look like because it is still in the design process.”
Because traffic conditions at the intersection vary through the day, building a roundabout—rather than installing a stop light— will actually improve travel times by eliminating unnecessary stops and delays. While stop signs or stop lights are a familiar sight, they are not always the safest or most efficient option.
“Roundabouts keep people moving but at speeds where injury risk is greatly reduced,” Tullos said. “It will take a learning curve for some people but I think the people of Enterprise are smart enough to learn how to use a roundabout,” he added with a smile.
“ALDOT has addressed a need of our elected officals’ constituents that the mayor and city council went to them with,” Tullos said. “This investment by ALDOT, by all metrics, will save lives. That is really the end of the story. “Ninety percent less fatalities. That number is powerful to me,” he added. “At the end of the day I think what we need to consider as a community is that if this roundabout prevents just one death it is worth it.