A time lapse of the roundabout at College and Oglethorpe Streets
Traffic roundabouts have been an increasing sight in Middle Georgia in recent years, and now the largest of them all is on the way.
Law enforcement and traffic engineers say the roundabouts have made traffic safer by nearly eliminating the high-speed T-bone crashes that can happen at a traditional intersection.
“Our experience has been that they are very effective at addressing safety and operational issues,” said Tyler Peek, district traffic engineer for the Georgia Department of Transportation. “We have found roundabouts are very good at addressing crash issues.”
The intersection of Ga. 247, Broadway and Houston Avenue in south Bibb County will become the first multi-lane roundabout in the area, Peek said.
The roundabout would replace the signals that now help control traffic in what is commonly called the Seven Bridges area. The Macon-Bibb Commission signed off on the plan in 2017, but at that time the funding was not certain. Now it is. The project is estimated to cost $2.5 million, paid for with state and federal money. Construction is expected to start in 2021 and will take 18 months. The design is currently underway.
The northbound side of Ga. 247 curves into the intersection and that has led to some fatal accidents. A 2016 study found that in the preceding five years, 142 wrecks happened at the intersection.
Capt. Brad Wolfe, who is over traffic enforcement for the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, expects there will be an adjustment period for motorists to get used to the Seven Bridges roundabout. But based on the county’s experience with its existing roundabouts, he said it will be a big improvement.
“I think in the long run it will be effective like they are everywhere else,” Wolfe said. “I believe it will work, with the number of crashes we have at that intersection.”
Peek said the first roundabout on a state road in the area opened in 2007 at U.S. 341 and Ga. 74, near Culloden. There are now 21 roundabouts in the 32-county district, which stretches from Macon to Columbus, with counties to the north and south. Peek said the only fatality was at a roundabout in the northern part of the district, close to Atlanta, in which a motorcyclist entered the roundabout at high speed and crashed. There have been no fatalities at the state-road roundabouts in the Macon area.
Bibb County has roundabouts at College and Oglethorpe streets, Eisenhower Parkway and Holly Road, Thomaston Road at Lamar and Johnson roads, and at Bass Road at Riverside Drive.
The Bass/Riverside roundabout has been effective enough that plans are underway to make it larger. Peek provided accident figures on that intersection that showed in the three years before the roundabout, there were 34 crashes and 33 injuries. In the 18 months since it opened, there have been only six accidents and one injury.
Additional roundabouts being designed or planned in Bibb County are Forest Hill Road at Wimbish Road; Eisenhower Parkway at Fulton Mill Road; Eisenhower Parkway at Knoxville Road; College Station Drive and Romeiser Road; and Forsyth Street at Pine and Spring streets.
David Fortson, engineer for Macon-Bibb County, said in an email that the roundabouts in the county work well.
“I think they expedite traffic in off-peak periods because they keep minor streets from having a long wait from a traffic signal,” he said. “During peak periods they probably function about as well as a signal-controlled intersection, perhaps a little better. They are safer than signal-controlled intersections because they reduce the number of conflict points and they reduce the severity of crashes that do occur. With a roundabout, it is extremely unlikely that you will have T-bone accidents or head-on accidents.”
Roundabouts less common in Houston
Warner Robins has two roundabouts, one at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Wellborn Road and the other is also on MLK at University Boulevard. Both of those are low-traffic areas. That was an intentional choice when they were installed in 2013 and 2014 to give residents a chance to get used to roundabouts before any were installed in a higher traffic area.
Jessica Bird, transportation planner for Warner Robins, said there haven’t been any new roundabouts installed since then, but that isn’t because the first two haven’t been working.
“I think they are working beautifully,” she said. “I think everyone is used to them. It’s just a matter of finding the right locations for them.”
She couldn’t find reports of any accidents at the two intersections since the roundabouts were installed.
Real estate is often the biggest reason that a roundabout can’t be used. A roundabout takes up much more space than a traditional intersection, and if the area is developed that can make a roundabout impractical.
Robbie Dunbar, operations director for Houston County, said there are no roundabouts in the unincorporated area. The county has considered installing roundabouts with some of the road expansions it has done, but the real estate issue has been an impediment. He said the county will continue to consider roundabouts in the future.
“We have not had the right application for one yet,” he said.