DOT nearly ready to open Portage’s first roundabout to traffic

September 26, 2018

It’s beginning to look a lot like a roundabout.

The busy construction zone on Highway 16 at Highway 127 and Interstate 39 — the site of what soon will be the first roundabout in Portage — was abuzz with activity Tuesday, as workers finished shoulders, erected signposts and marked pavement, in the hope of dodging a forecasted rainfall.

If work continues uninterrupted, the roundabout could be partially open by the end of this week, said Matthew Dapp, project manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

“I’m thinking that later this week, they’re going to put traffic back on the road,” he said.

What that entails, in the short term, are the following changes in a construction zone that has been congested since the beginning of the summer:

A short segment of Highway 127 north of Highway 16, closed for most of the project, will reopen, and will be accessible via the roundabout.Inside lanes will remain closed, but eastbound and westbound outside lanes of Highway 16 will be open.The southbound entrance ramp for Interstate 39 from Highway 16 will remain closed, probably until the end of October, while work continues on the painting and repair of I-39 bridges over the Wisconsin River and railroad tracks. During the bridge work, just one northbound and one southbound lane remain open in the area.There will be, once again, separate exits from I-39 for eastbound and westbound Highway 16 traffic. During the construction, the eastbound exit has been closed, and all northbound vehicles exiting to Highway 16 have been routed to the westbound exit, which has been regulated with temporary traffic signals. Those signals will come down soon, Dapp said.

This will be the first roundabout in Portage, and the first one on a state highway in Columbia County.

Chris Hardy, Columbia County highway commissioner, said the county already has a roundabout in the city of Wisconsin Dells, at Waubeek and River roads.

But because the new one is part of the state highway system, the Columbia County Highway Department will be responsible for maintenance, including plowing snow.

Roundabouts pose a challenge in the winter because it takes time to clear them of snow, and it’s often hard to find a place to put the snow once it’s removed.

“Most plow drivers would rather not have them,” Hardy said. “But they are very efficient in moving traffic.”

One reason why DOT officials identified Highway 16 at 127 and I-39 as a potential roundabout location is because the intersection has a history of crashes, some of them deadly, and many more near-misses.

Hardy said a roundabout won’t necessarily reduce the number of crashes, but it will reduce their severity, by eliminating the likelihood of “T-bone” collisions at high speed.

Dapp said roundabouts have become ubiquitous in the area and drivers should be familiar with navigating them. For example, there are consecutive roundabouts off Highway 51 in the northern Dane County communities of DeForest and Windsor, and on Highway 12 near Lake Delton in Sauk County.

Michael Bie, Wisconsin DOT southwest communication manager, said the DOT offers an informational brochure about how to drive in a roundabout. It can be found at wisconsindot.gov; search for “roundabout.”

Basically, anyone entering a roundabout needs to yield to vehicles already in the roundabout, and to any pedestrians and bicycles. In most cases, drivers most need to watch for traffic on the left. But if a driver of a passenger car, pickup truck, motorcycle or other small vehicle approaches a roundabout alongside a large vehicle like a semi-tractor-trailer or farm implement, the driver of the smaller vehicle must let the larger vehicle into the roundabout first.

Dapp said the DOT will, if invited by local officials, offer public education sessions on how to drive in a roundabout.

In another matter related to Columbia County road construction, DOT officials want drivers to stay off Highway 22 between highways 16 and 60 while the 11-mile segment is under construction.

Engineer Mike Novey, director of construction services, said paving for the third and final layer is scheduled to take place this week, weather permitting.

He said too many people are going around the barriers and driving on the roadway, which could cause construction delays.

People who live on Highway 22 in the construction zone have been asked to access their homes from the nearest crossroad to minimize vehicles on Highway 22. All other traffic should follow the detour on Highway 51.

The Highway 22 project is scheduled to be completed sometime next month.

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