Roundabout work drawing praise, objections

pramati@macon.comApril 10, 2014 

  • Kristi Lyle, second generation owner of the Bear's Den, talks about the hit her business has taken after the start of roundabout construction up the street.

Is it a traffic safety enhancement that will boost the look of the neighborhood near Tattnall Square Park or an annoyance that will yield only marginal benefits?

When it comes to the roundabout being built at the intersection of College and Oglethorpe streets, it depends on whom you ask.

The $1.3 million project, scheduled to be finished by late August, is the first publicly funded roundabout on a city street in Macon, said J.R. Olive, program coordinator for the College Hill Alliance.

The College Hill Master Plan identified several areas for potential roundabouts in the corridor, but only the one under construction was feasible because it is being built primarily with money from a Georgia Department of Transportation grant of nearly $1 million.

Traffic engineers identified the intersection as one of the most dangerous in the corridor area, Olive said.

“We were not going to do anything to make it unsafe,” he said. “All of the research we did showed that people traveling (through the roundabout weekly) would figure it out and there would be less chance of a vehicle-on-person interaction.

“A lot of people like roundabouts. It’s always better not having to stop at red lights.”

For nearby residents and businesses, however, the construction has proven to be an aggravation. They say the city didn’t give them enough warning to prepare for road closures, and signs in the area have been confusing for drivers.

The owner of the Bears Den restaurant on Oglethorpe Street said the restaurant has taken a significant financial hit since construction began, arguing that some customers have stopped coming because of the inconvenience of trying to navigate around the roadwork.

Owner Kristi Lyles said her family’s business has been in the same spot for the past quarter century.

Lyles said road closure signs on streets that lead to the business have added to confusion.

“Because of the size of the barrier and how (the caution message is) worded, we’re just seeing a tremendous decrease in traffic and business because people don’t understand how to get here,” she said.

Anita Dayley, a customer at the restaurant Wednesday and Thursday, said that based on her difficulty in getting to the Bears Den on Wednesday, she allowed herself an extra 10 minutes to get there for Thursday’s lunch.

“I was quite surprised” by the roadwork, Dayley said. “But it hasn’t had an effect on me coming here, though.”

But Lyles said other customers have been affected. She estimates that since construction began last week, she’s had 100 fewer customers on average each day -- and sometimes as many as 150. That translates into $700 to $1,200 a day.

Lyles said she is concerned that if her business takes too much of a financial hit, it could affect her 21 full-time employees.

“That’s certainly the biggest fear that we have,” she said. “It’s a problem when jobs are in danger. I’m nervous for my employees, and I’m nervous for my own self and my own family.”

‘Trying to help out’

Macon-Bibb County spokesman Chris Floore said the city is taking the concerns of area residents and businesses seriously. He said Bill Causey and Nigel Floyd of the Engineering Department have met with the owners and residents over the past couple of days to address their concerns, especially about the signs.

“We’re working to put out different signs to make clearer what’s happening,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process. We’re trying to help out. We don’t want to harm any business. ... We recognize that there’s going to be some disruptions, but ultimately it’s going to lead to a safer street.”

Some mothers of Alexander II Magnet School students said they haven’t been inconvenienced since the work started. They said the school system sent several letters to parents explaining details of the roadwork.

Setal Patel waited in front of the Tattnall Square tennis courts Thursday for school to finish for the day.

“They’ve taken plenty of time to prepare us for this,” she said.

Belinda Whitfield, who also was waiting in the parking lot, said she didn’t know what impact the roundabout would make.

“I have my doubts,” she said. “But I don’t have a lot of experience with roundabouts, so I don’t know. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

Even blocks away, school traffic around Mount de Sales Academy also has been affected.

Steve Bell, who lives at the intersection and operates a business from his home, remains skeptical. He said noise from the construction was so bad during the first week that he and his family left their house temporarily. Since then, the noise levels have diminished.

It’s not easy going to and from his house, nor for customers whom he is meeting at his home. He said he is disappointed the city didn’t do a better job notifying him of the imminent road closures. He also wonders why there wasn’t a session for community input, as there have been for so many other College Hill projects.

“I was not contacted by anyone,” he said. “I was surprised to find we had been completely sequestered by the barricades. On the first day, I had to drive on the sidewalk to get out of my driveway. ... It’s the kind of thing that can kill a small business.”

Bell also will lose part of his front yard that faces Tattnall Square Park over the next six months, since that has been claimed as public right of way to widen the road for the roundabout. Bell said he received notice Thursday that his water will be shut off for eight hours Saturday as part of the roadwork.

He said he thinks the roundabout will make things worse for foot traffic, not better.

“I’m totally not against roundabouts, but I think this one is in a bad location,” he said. “I don’t think this is a project being done out of necessity or safety concerns. I believe it’s a vanity project.”

Writer Grant Blankenship contributed to this report.

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