Roundabout plan questioned; public hearing set for Oct. 16

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County Commissioners are less than enthusiastic about the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) plan for a roundabout on U.S. 441 S.E. at Southeast 18th Terrace.

The commissioners agree the intersection is dangerous. Between 2011-2013, there were 14 recorded crashes at that intersection: Three with injuries and 11 with property damage, according to FDOT.

At Sept. 25 county commission meeting, Nicolas Leon, FDOT project engineer, said FDOT considered a traffic signal for the intersection, but their study found a roundabout would increase safety and improve traffic flow.

A roundabout is proposed at U.S. 441 S.E. at Southeast 18th Terrace in Okeechobee.

According to the 2014 FDOT Memorandum titled “Phase 1 Roundabout Feasibility Screening”:

• A roundabout has the potential to provide safety benefits including a reduction in all crashes by 71 percent and a reduction in severe (injury and fatal crashes) by 87 percent. Over a 10-year period, a roundabout has the potential to reduce a total of 10 crashes, with four of those being fatal or injury.

• A signal has the potential to reduce all crashes by 50 percent and injury/fatal crashes by 40 percent. This results in the potential to reduce a total of seven crashes, with three of those being fatal or injury over a 10-year period.

Mr. Leon said the estimated cost of the project is $1.9 million.

“We’re going to be approaching property owners soon about right of way,” he said.

Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs asked the cost of a turn signal instead of the roundabout.

He said with additional costs, the project will probably be closer to $2.9 million.

Mr. Burroughs said roundabouts work well in some places but he does not think it is the right choice for that intersection.

“That’s a major thoroughfare cut through road to downtown,” he said. “We have a lot of older folks who live there.

“I am not against roundabouts; I am just against roundabouts in that particular area. You have trucks, people pulling trailers, all kinds of things going down U.S. 441,” he said.

People who live in that area are “not real happy about this,” he said.

Mr. Leon said the speed limit on U.S. 441 S.E. in that area is 45 mph. The roundabout speed limit would be 25 mph and the design forces drivers to slow down, he said.

He said the design allows curbing which helps the semis make the turns. He said in other areas they have put in roundabouts, it has worked well for the trucks.

“My concern is with seasonal people who tend to be elderly and pulling boats behind them,” said Commissioner Kelly Owens. “I see them handling this roundabout not nearly as effectively as they would a signal. If we look at the cost of what a signal would be, I think there is a significant difference,” she continued.

She asked what would happen if property owners don’t want to sell right of way.

Mr. Leon responded that FDOT would have to acquire the right of way through the judicial process.

“That may turn into an issue and delay the process,” said Commissioner Owens. Putting a traffic signal in would be a much faster process, she said.

“What we know about our local community and the drivers who go through that intersection, we may have a better handle in what is going to work for our community,” she said.

“A lot of seniors will get in that thing and wind up going the wrong direction,” said Commissioner Bryant Culpepper.

“Cost wise and time wise, this problem could be solved a lot faster,” he said.

“From what I have read, roundabouts reduce traffic fatalities,” said Commissioner Bradley Goodbread. He said start and stop traffic is most dangerous.

Mr. Leon said roundabouts eliminate left turn movements, which are the most severe crashes.

Commissioner David Hazellief said he has seen a video with testimonies from trucking companies on how it helped the traffic flow in Polk County

“FDOT is going to do what they want to do,” said Chairman Burroughs. “See you at Pier II.”

A public hearing about the roundabout plan is set for Oct. 16 at the Pier II Resort, 2200 U.S. 441 S.E. Open house will be from 5 to 6 p.m. The hearing will start at 6 p.m.

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