Getting There in a Roundabout Way
The Georgia Department of Transportation held an Open House July 20th, 2017 at the Powell Park Arts Center to share information and accept public comment regarding the Villa Rica Bypass project. Attendance was steady as inquisitive citizens viewed enlarged aerial photographs that depicted the location and design of the almost two-mile project and the roundabout intersections at both ends. Engineers from the GDOT, Right of Ways specialists, and local officials were on hand to answer questions and accept comments.
According to GDOT documents, the project received preliminary engineering efforts as early as seventeen years ago. At that time, Villa Rica was a small town with a population of 4500. Today, the city population is about 15,000. Paulding County, just to the north, has seen a 67% growth rate in the same time, with 56,000 of its 160,000 residents commuting outside the county to work, many of them driving through Villa Rica to reach I-20. Georgia Highway 61 carries an average of 13,000 vehicles each day with almost 1200 of them being heavy vehicles (tractor-trailers). Almost all of that traffic has to navigate several turns and cross the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks in order to transit through Villa Rica south to the expressway or, transversely, north into Paulding County. In 2015 GDOT presented a proposed bypass project in an open forum. After concerns were expressed regarding the most eastern end of the bypass, along the Punkintown / Mirror Lake Blvd. corridor, engineers revised the project to the current proposal.
The current bypass plan begins on the west side of the city with a roundabout intersection at the current location of the three way stop where Hwy 101 / Industrial Boulevard and Hwy 101 / Rockmart Rd intersect. The bypass, all new construction, would continue east from the roundabout, eventually crossing McCurdy Rd and Herrell Rd before ending in another roundabout at a new intersection on Hwy 61 south of Stockmar Rd. and north of Punkintown Rd.. The road itself will be two twelve foot lanes with turn lanes where necessary and ten foot wide rural shoulders.
Roundabouts are relatively new to the United States, primarily getting their start in Utah in the 1990s. There are currently around 5000 nationwide, whereas in the United Kingdom there are over 25,000, the first modern versions dating back to the 1960s. The concept of the roundabout is simple, traffic enters to the right with a yield-yield status. Vehicles continue moving at a safe speed until they reach their destination lane and exit the roundabout to the right. According to GDOT officials, there are several advantages to roundabouts versus traditional intersections. Statistically, they are safer. Roundabout intersections are 90% safer in terms of fatal traffic crashes, 76% safer in injury crashes, and 40% safer for pedestrians. The design of a roundabout lends itself to greater visibility of all traffic approaching the intersection and the need to slow down in order to navigate the curve, as opposed to the impulse that drives some motorists to accelerate into an intersection when the light is changing. They also ease congestion, since traffic should rarely come to a full stop. They are often more aesthetically pleasing, depending on local decisions regarding landscaping. Finally, roundabouts are considered a good value, for governments and citizens. There are no traffic lights to upkeep and power and less stopping and going means a modest fuel savings for motorists.
While officials communicated a projected cost of $11 million, that may not include all expenses. GDOT documents show a 2016 estimated cost for right of way acquisition alone to be almost $8 million. The same estimates have the cost of construction and utilities at about $8.7 million over ten years. Some of those costs may have been adjusted downward with the updated plan. Regardless of exact numbers, with costs constantly on the rise, GDOT and local officials see now as the time to act to begin handling a problem that will continue to grow.
When asked about citizen concerns regarding the project, one GDOT official said, “we are here to serve the people of this community, they know what serves them best, and we have listened to their ideas.” While there were some legitimate concerns expressed by those in attendance, most acknowledged that something had to be done to handle the growing volume of traffic through the city. One resident remarked, “I think this is going to be a good thing. I’ve never driven through a roundabout in my life, but I’m ready if it means less truck traffic downtown.”
Information regarding the project can be found at: www.dot.ga.gov