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Balch/Gillespie roundabout to open Oct. 29

MADISON – Motorists in Madison will have access to a new traffic scenario when the roundabout at Balch and Gillespie roads opens on Oct. 29.

City Council debated the construction of a roundabout versus a traffic light. Then Director of Engineering  Gary Chenoweth said the decision was a cost issue. Defining the right-of-way at the intersection was an “efficiency call” with lower cost for a roundabout.

“Traffic should always enter the roundabout to the right after yielding to traffic already in the circle,” Detective Teresa Taylor-Duncan with Madison Police Department said. “Take a counterclockwise travel to reach the desired exit from the roundabout.”

“While ours is considered a ‘mini-roundabout,’ drivers should still use turn signals to indicate their desire to exit the roundabout,” Taylor-Duncan said. The Madison roundabout will be more like the one in Athens at Lindsay Lane, as opposed to the double-lane roundabout at Providence in Huntsville.

The roundabout is single lane but large enough to accommodate fire trucks, ambulances, buses and other large vehicles. A splitter island will have signage to direct motorists to proceed to the right, Chenoweth said.

Madison Police Department offered pointers for driving in a roundabout:

* Keep speed less than 20 mph.

* Yield at entry into the roundabout.

* Patience is key in using this traffic feature.

* Never stop inside the roundabout.

* Yield to emergency vehicles that are outside the roundabout.

* Pedestrians will cross on access streets.

Currently, 9,000 cars use the intersection daily on Balch Road, while 7,000 cars drive on Gillespie Road. During construction, commuter traffic used subdivision roads as detours, including Franklin Station, Applewood and Walden Preserve neighborhoods.

Council Member Maura Wroblewski coordinated a Town Hall Meeting for districts 1, 2 and 7 on April 22. The meeting’s panel included Chenoweth, Wroblewski for District 1, District 2 Council Member Connie Spears and Council Member John Seifert for District 7. The roundabout will impact those districts.

In public comments at the Town Hall Meeting, Jim Lake in Windsor Park favors roundabouts after frequently using them while living in the United Kingdom. John Guire in Stoneridge also used roundabouts in the UK and appreciates the signage in place there. He opposes other signs here for retail advertising that distract drivers and can cause accidents.

Doug Goldstein in District 1 hopes that future signage will discourage people to drive through neighborhoods and use the roundabout instead. Chenoweth said the traffic congestion in neighborhoods will disappear when the roundabout is active.

Reed Carpenter in District 4 said the Balch/Gillespie intersection is the worst intersection that he has ever seen. He recommends the use of roundabouts for safety and increased traffic flow.

Jeff North in District 6 asked about sidewalks, which the city may add in the future, and lighting, which will be enhanced for better brightness, especially for splitter islands.

Madison Police Chief Johnny Gandy said he had driven on roundabouts decades earlier while stationed in the United Kingdom with the U.S. Air Force. “The use of roundabouts is widespread (there). Roundabouts are designed to safely facilitate a steady flow of traffic at intersections,” Gandy said.

“I’m sure you have witnessed during heavy traffic periods how badly traffic backs up at Stop signs as each vehicle is forced to stop and wait for clearance and right of way before proceeding,” Gandy said. “Once people here get used to using them, you will see traffic move much more smoothly and quickly through the use of roundabouts.”

Drivers approaching a roundabout must decelerate before entering and give right-away to vehicles to their left already in the roundabout until the driver can safely exit to the right, depending on the intended route of travel. “This (process) serves to greatly reduce and, in some cases, eliminate the long line of cars backing up at Stop signs, especially at 4-way intersections,” Gandy said.

Madison has another roundabout under construction at Intergraph Way and Graphics Drive/Lime Quarry Road on the route to Town Madison.

For comments, residents can email the Engineering Department or post a comment in “Let Us Know” on the city website (www.madisonal.gov).

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