City: Roundabout needed for safety, economic development

January 8, 2019

STERLING – Residents packed a meeting room at City Hall Monday to learn more about a roundabout project planned at LeFevre Road and Lynn Boulevard.

Troy Pankratz of Mead & Hunt, a consulting firm used by the city, gave the presentation. Pankratz has been designing roundabouts since 2004, about the time they started popping up nationwide as an option for handling major shifts in traffic patterns.

The intersection now has stop signs, but only going north and south. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour. In addition to increased traffic, largely from business growth in the area, there is the dangerous combination of more pedestrians and large trucks.

Companies in the industrial park, particularly Halo Branded Solutions, Menk USA, P&P Industries and Astec Mobile Screens, have expanded in recent years and added more employees.

“There are several trails and sidewalks there, creating potential for more pedestrians, and Astec has quite a few trucks coming through,” Pankratz said.

The city had Mead & Hunt do a traffic study in April 2017, which projected a 65 percent increase in traffic from 2017 to 2040. The study also showed an uptick in crashes at the intersection in 2018. There have been 25 crashes there since 2013 – none with fatalities – and seven happened last year.

The consultants and the city looked at several options, including the addition of east-west stop signs, traffic signals, and the roundabout.

Crash-reduction projections were 17 percent with traffic signals and 56 percent for a roundabout.

“With a roundabout, drivers must yield upon entry and there is a central island that deflects them from a straight path, so they have to reduce their speed,” Pankratz said.

The speed limit in the single-lane roundabout would be 15 miles per hour. When pedestrians are hit, the chance of death jumps from 15 percent to 85 percent from speeds of 20 to 40. The pedestrian crossing area would be ADA-compliant for those with disabilities.

The lane would measure 22 feet in width and an apron would be put in to provide an additional 12 feet for the trucks.

The signals option, which might have to be done eventually anyway, would carry a construction cost of $595,960, while the roundabout would come in at about $703,200. The roundabout would cost less to maintain, totaling $6 million over a 20-year life cycle.

Many residents wondered how the project would be funded. City Manager Scott Shumard said that most of it would come from the local option sales tax that doubled in 2017 when residents narrowly approved the increase. The city also thinks it has a good chance of getting a $2 million grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Some were concerned that the project would divert sales tax funds from other needed street projects.

“This will certainly compete with other road projects, but there are hundreds of new employees out there and we are behind the curve on this,” Shumard said.

While safety was noted as the top concern, the city made it clear that these projects go hand-in-hand with economic growth.

“When people want economic development, we need to provide infrastructure,” Shumard said. “Halo has invested a lot of money here and never asked for anything, and companies like Menk and P&P keep adding employees.”

Shumard also said the city is working on a couple of new projects in the industrial park that he wasn’t at liberty to talk about.

Some residents suggested that a much cheaper option would be a reduction in the speed limit. Shumard and Police Chief Tim Morgan agreed that motorists would likely drive at the speeds they were used to in that area. The chief is a supporter of the roundabout.

“It would be a huge advantage because the chance of right-angle crashes would be practically zero, and it would greatly decrease the chance of injuries,” Morgan said.

After evaluating the study results, the City Council approved the roundabout plan in January 2018, and the preliminary designs were completed in September.

If all went according to plan, the project would start this summer and wrap up in the fall. The engineers are proposing that Lynn be closed during construction, but LeFevre would remain open to the business park. Although closing the entire area would save time and money, it was deemed too much of an inconvenience.

The city also plans to build a second roundabout, this one in the Wallace Street area as part of the riverfront development road realignment.

Changing perceptions

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica} According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a majority of citizens typically oppose roundabouts when they are proposed, but become much more receptive to them after they are built. Numbers show that the opposition totals 63 percent before the project, but only 15 percent after construction.

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