Work has begun on what local public works officials say is Harford County's first mini-roundabout, being constructed at the intersection of West MacPhail and Tollgate roads in Bel Air.
The project is expected to be completed prior to the Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1-3, the Harford County Department of Public Works said Monday.
The intersection, which serves the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center as well as a number of residential neighborhoods, is closed while the work is being done.
The closest intersections to get to Route 24 and other points east are at Tollgate and Marketplace Drive and Tollgate and West Ring Factory Road, both of which incidentally have what are considered full-sized roundabouts.
According to a DPW news release, mini-roundabouts function the same as the larger roundabouts in that vehicles should yield to those vehicles already in the roundabout, go around the central island in a counterclockwise direction and then exit the roundabout.
"The mini-roundabout, however, has a fully mountable center island so the rear wheels of large vehicles can navigate around the intersection," the news release states.
A DPW official also said earlier this summer that mini-roundabouts are effective at intersections with a traffic volume of less than 1,600 vehicles per hour.
In the past, DPW officials have said the Tollgate and MacPhail roundabout would cost about $100,000 to construct. Last month, the Harford County Board of Estimates approved a $312,000 contract covering several road improvement projects, including the Tollgate job. The contract was awarded to Romano Concrete Construction Inc. of Laurel.
According to the DPW news release, the mini-roundabout for the intersection of MacPhail and Tollgate Roads "is supported by the surrounding community" and "will save more than $400,000 as a result of not having to relocate adjacent utilities as with a normal roundabout."
Harford's first roundabout was installed at Tollgate Road and Marketplace Drive in 1996. DPW officials say there are now 21 roundabouts around the county, and they have been "successful," by ending traffic delays and vehicle idling for stop lights.
"Most importantly," DPW's news release continues, "the safety benefits of roundabouts are undeniable."
According to DPW, the 21 roundabouts throughout Harford County, many which have been installed for more than 10 years, have a combined total of 38 reported motor vehicles accidents with only three injuries.
Conversely, at three of the 21 intersections which were stop sign controlled prior to the installation of roundabouts, there were a total of 78 accidents with 24 injuries and three fatalities from the period 1995 – 2005. These intersections included Tollgate and Westover, Tollgate and West Ring Factory and Abingdon Road and Box Hill South Parkway. Since 2005, coinciding with the installation of the roundabouts, those intersections have had a total of only 13 accidents resulting in two minor injuries, DPW said.
DPW also said it will monitor the effectiveness of the new mini-roundabout at MacPhail and Tollgate roads and "if this new concept proves to be as successful as the other roundabouts throughout the county, similar designs will be considered for future locations which may not be compatible for construction of the 'normal' roundabouts."