Pumpkin Center and Harlem residents expressed apprehension and outright opposition Tuesday to a proposed traffic circle at Appling-Harlem and Wrightsboro roads.
The state Department of Transportation is considering building a roundabout at the intersection and held an open house allowing residents to see more details of the project.
"It might be a great thing if we were in downtown Harlem," said Ken Roland, who lives in nearby Lampkin Springs. "We're not. We're in the middle of nowhere, Georgia. ... I don't buy the fact that we need a turnaround for a lot of reasons."
Roundabouts force motorists to make a right turn onto the circle and then another right turn off the circle and onto their street destination. DOT officials said they are considering the roundabout as an alternative to replace the four-way stop currently controlling traffic at the Pumpkin Center intersection.
Sue Kim, co-owner of the Pumpkin Center store at one corner of the intersection, said she'd prefer a traffic signal and that a roundabout would be confusing.
Mrs. Kim's husband, Young, also a co-owner, said he wouldn't like to give up any of his property for the roundabout construction and the roundabout could negatively affect his business. "I'm thinking of expanding more because I'm trying to get the truckers in here," Mr. Kim said. "I need more space, actually."
Roland and other residents at the meeting said they are worried that the large number of tractor trailers that travel that north-south thoroughfare won't be able to navigate the roundabout.
But DOT District Traffic Engineer Jimmy Smith said that won't be a problem. The center of the proposed roundabout is more than 50 feet wide, bigger than the existing intersection. It is surrounded by a 22-foot-wide truck apron and a 20-foot-wide travel lane, both about as wide as the existing two-lane roadway, he said.
DOT estimates almost 10,000 vehicles travel that intersection every day. That number is expected to grow by about 700 before construction on a roundabout might begin in July 2012. But for several reasons, the intersection does not meet federal guidelines to warrant a traffic signal.
"You can either wait several more years to get the volume that you need to satisfy the warrant for a traffic signal and not do anything, or you can put in a roundabout now that is fully, 100-percent federally funded, that can handle in excess of 20,000 vehicles a day," Smith said. "It will handle the growth around that intersection for years to come and has been proven safer than a traffic signal."
Smith said a traffic signal initially was considered, but was very cost-prohibitive, costing at least 50 percent more than the roundabout. To install a traffic signal, the entire intersection would need to be realigned to a near 90-degree angle and four left-turn lanes and some right-turn deceleration lanes would need to be installed, he said.
County Commissioner Scott Dean said he thinks the $963,000 cost of the roundabout would be a waste of money.
The roundabouts are significantly safer, Smith said. The number of crashes, especially fatal and serious ones, declined by more than 80 percent after roundabout installations, according to reports by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.
"It is cheaper and it is safer (than a traffic signal)," said Matt Schlachter, the director of Columbia County Construction and Maintenance Services. "If you've got to do one of the two, why not do the roundabout?"
The intersection had stop signs only on Wrightsboro Road until 2001, shortly after a Harlem High School student died in a wreck there.
Most residents, such as Ken Meyer, said the current stop signs are effective and they would prefer a traffic signal to the roundabout.
District 4 commission candidate David Payne said he would rather see the money used in other ways. "Use the money to pave the road," Payne said. "This road hasn't been resurfaced in years."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.