Harford County's first "mini-roundabout," planned for MacPhail and Tollgate roads, seems set to move ahead without a hitch.
About 24 residents attended a public hearing on the roundabout Wednesday night at the Bel Air library, and they seemed overwhelmingly supportive of the project.
The small roundabout would go in just south of the county's first official roundabout, at Marketplace and Tollgate roads, which chief highways engineer Jeff Stratmeyer said has been a major success.
The main difference with the mini-roundabout is its center would be flat instead of landscaped, allowing trucks and larger vehicles to actually drive across the center, Stratmeyer explained.
Mini-roundabouts are only recommended for intersections with lower traffic volumes (less than 1,600 vehicles per hour) and low truck or bus traffic, he said.
The county opted for a mini-roundabout at the MacPhail intersection because of a large utility pole at one corner. Stratmeyer said moving the utilities alone would have cost $400,000, the price for building a full-size roundabout.
The mini-roundabout will instead cost about $100,000, he said.
Coincidentally, BGE recently replaced that utility pole, under a directive from the town of Bel Air. Stratmeyer said the county unfortunately had no idea BGE was out replacing the pole and tried to stop it, but BGE refused.
The construction project will also mean shutting down the entire intersection for up to two weeks in August. Stratmeyer said he did not know of any specific detour yet, suggesting only that residents use back roads.
"To try to get the hundreds of cars that go through there every day while they are working would just be very, very dangerous," project manager Rick Bates said.
The roundabout will have stamped concrete on the center island and at the corners. The Tollgate Road portion will also be wider to allow school buses and ambulances to go straight without having to traverse the island.
Stratmeyer noted his department would not typically have a public meeting for a roundabout, but "this one is a little bit different."
"I know it's going to be inconvenient for a week and a half, two weeks, but we can get in and out of there, hopefully before schools start, would be our goal," he said.
Stratmeyer said two developers, one of whom is responsible for Richardson's Legacy, will be contributing to the project.
Residents had some general questions about traffic control in the area, including a better pedestrian crossing at the Marketplace roundabout, but generally seemed eager to have the mini-roundabout built.
"I am very supportive of this. I think it's great, long overdue, in my opinion," Mike Early, who lives on nearby Ponderosa Drive, said.
Other questions included how snow trucks would navigate the roundabout and how the potential plan for bike paths on Tollgate would fit in with the roundabout.
Stratmeyer said both of those vehicles could handle the roundabout, with bikers dismounting if they have to.
He did acknowledge a roundabout's proximity to traffic signals, which the Marketplace one is close to, could result in traffic jams during certain times, like the holiday season.
Change of attitude
Stratmeyer noted how far public attitudes have come since the county built that first roundabout at Marketplace in 1996.
He said when he originally did a presentation on that project at Harford Mall, one woman grabbed his tie and shook it, warning him the county was going to kill many people with the roundabout.
Now, he said, "they are getting very popular."
Roundabouts have been very successful in reducing congestion and have "dramatically" reduced accident rates, he said.
Just three "pre-roundabout" intersections had 78 accidents per year, with 29 injuries and three fatalities.
Since 1996, all 20 roundabouts installed by the county have had a total of 30 accidents, with only two resulting in injury.
In the 16 years since the Marketplace roundabout was built, there have been seven accidents there.
"That is pretty phenomenal," he said.