Pumpkin Center motorists might one day find themselves driving in circles.
The state Department of Transportation is considering building a roundabout to replace the four-way stop at Appling-Harlem and Wrightsboro roads.
A DOT-sponsored open house will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. March 9 at Harlem High School to allow interested residents the opportunity to view details of the project, ask questions and comment on the proposal.
Roundabouts are traffic circles that force motorists to make a right turn onto the circle and then another right turn off the circle and onto their street destination. State transportation officials intend to present to the public such an option as a replacement for the current Pumpkin Center intersection.
"Research has shown that roundabouts ... provide improved capacity and safety over all-way stops," DOT Project Manager Karyn M. Matthews said in an e-mail. "Data from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program's before-and-after studies indicate that at locations where roundabouts have already been installed, the overall number of crashes was reduced by at least 35 percent."
The intersection had stop signs only on Wrightsboro Road until 2001, when the DOT responded to a petition and letter-writing drive and added stop signs on Appling-Harlem Road.
That campaign, spearheaded by Columbia County School Board trustee Roxanne Whitaker, followed a Dec. 12, 2000, three-vehicle crash that claimed the life of Harlem High School junior Melissa Dawn Swett.
In the decade since that crash, there have been more than 60 acidents at that intersection, and Matthews believes many of those could have been avoided with a roundabout.
"Analysis found that there are enough correctable crashes to install a roundabout at this location," she said. "Over the past 10 years, there have been 63 crashes at the subject intersection of which 23 are correctable with the installation of a roundabout."
More than just decreasing wrecks, Matthews said roundabouts ameliorate traveling performance.
"A roundabout will also improve the overall operation and efficiency of the intersection," she said. "Based on low traffic volumes and a relatively even split between the major and minor streets, it is a good candidate for a roundabout."
If the DOT decides to move forward with a roundabout, Matthews said the project would cost about $963,000 and could take as long as 18 months to build. Construction tentatively would start in July 2012.
By that time, DOT projects that an average 10,600 vehicles will traverse that intersection each day. That is 700 more vehicles than can currently travel through there.
If enough members of the public protest a roundabout, Matthews said DOT might instead consider a traffic signal for the intersection.
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