Since part of a bypass opened in December 2013 on the west side of North Vernon, 27 wrecks have occurred at the intersection of U.S. 50, Base Road and State Road 750.
Nearly half involved injuries. One resulted in a fatality.
Traffic turning right to continue east on U.S. 50 toward North Vernon or going westbound coming off of State Road 750 does not have to stop at the intersection. But motorists coming off of Base Road, turning left to continue west on U.S. 50 toward Seymour or turning right onto State Road 750 have to stop.
In an effort to improve overall traffic operation and make that intersection safer, the Indiana Department of Transportation has proposed changing it to a single-lane roundabout.
A roundabout is a one-way circular intersection that has traffic yield at the entrances and then flow counterclockwise around a center island. There is no parking in the area and no activity in the center island.
From all directions, drivers would decelerate from 55 mph to 35 mph upon entering the S-curve into the roundabout. After yielding to traffic, they would navigate the roundabout at 25 mph. Once they reach their intended direction of travel, they could accelerate back up to 55 mph.
More signage and lighting in the area also would result in the area being safer, INDOT officials said.
A roundabout also is being proposed at the other end of the bypass, where an extension of State Road 750 currently is being constructed to take drivers to U.S. 50 on the east end of North Vernon.
Work on the east roundabout is scheduled to begin this fall, while the west roundabout would be constructed in fall 2017.
Nearly 50 people recently attended a public meeting at Jennings County High School to learn about the proposal, ask questions and make comments. Consultants from Parsons, an Indianapolis firm overseeing the design of both roundabouts, also were at the meeting.
A few people who spoke were in favor of the roundabouts, but a majority weren’t.
Rickie Clark of the INDOT Office of Public Involvement said there are several benefits of roundabouts, including efficient traffic flow, reduction in congestion and aesthetic landscaping.
“In terms of federal studies, state studies, it has been proven that the roundabout treatment is a safety enhancement and does contribute toward safe navigation through intersections by reduction in terms of vehicle accidents and most importantly the reduction in the severity of accidents through intersections,” he said.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, traditional intersections account for 45 percent of all crashes and 33 percent of all traffic fatalities.
Intersections with roundabouts, however, reduce fatalities and injuries by 82 percent and reduce total crashes by 44 percent because they require vehicles to travel at lower speeds, according to the FHA.
Collisions at traditional intersections are severe because of high speed and the angle of impact, Clark said. Roundabouts enhance safety because the conflict points in an intersection are dramatically reduced because all vehicles are traveling in the same direction, he said.
A couple of people asked why roundabouts were chosen for the two intersections.
Clark said INDOT analyzes intersections around the state and looks at the number of accidents over a period of time.
“If we’re looking at a trend and a pattern where vehicular accidents are occurring and that number is increasing, then we’re going to take a closer look at that intersection and say it’s either not performing the way we would like it or how could we enhance that and make it safer for navigation,” he said.
An alternatives analysis is performed to determine if stoplights or stop signs would work or if a roundabout should be constructed.
“There are proposals to convert an intersection to a roundabout,” Clark said. “It’s not an end-all, be-all. It’s not the right application for every intersection, so there’s a lot of forethought that goes into a proposal before it’s placed on the table.”
Stakeholders also are contacted during the proposal process. That includes community and county officials, schools, businesses, emergency services, farming industries and trucking industries. Community residents and commuters also are involved in the discussions.
That helps the project designers make any necessary changes based on the feedback.
In the case of the North Vernon intersections, roundabouts were chosen because the intersections are in rural, high-speed areas, and the goal is to keep traffic moving, said Dan Miller with Parsons.
“The roundabout came hands down as the best option for both of these,” he said.
Several people who spoke during the meeting talked about the west intersection being dangerous while turning onto U.S. 50. The area is even more dangerous when it’s foggy.
Also, drivers unfamiliar with the area often don’t know what to do at the intersection and may not know if they need to slow down or stop.
With the roundabout, signs will be placed ahead of the intersection alerting motorists of what’s ahead, and more signs will be near the approach to let them know to reduce their speed and yield.
“You have gentle S-curves. These curves, as you turn in and turn back into the roundabout, that slows you down,” Miller said. “It automatically forces drivers to reduce their speed, thus when they enter the roundabout, they enter the roundabout at a much slower speed, a much safer speed.”
Some residents also were concerned about the number of semitrailers and farm implements that travel U.S. 50 and the bypass. Both Miller said both roundabouts will have 2-inch corrugated truck aprons to deter passenger cars while allowing vehicles with trailers to make movements without shifting loads.
The east roundabout will be constructed as part of the current bypass construction project. The west roundabout will be built a half at a time to maintain traffic, and existing pavement will be reused to lower cost.
Funding comes from 80 percent federal and 20 percent state. No local funds will be used to pay for the project.
Clark encouraged those who spoke during the meeting to put their comments in writing and send them to INDOT. Those who didn’t attend the meeting also can provide feedback to INDOT via email through Sept. 30.
While most people at the meeting were against the North Vernon roundabouts, Shelley Green of Hayden said she is in favor of them.
Her brother, Gregory Green, was killed in June 2014 in a three-vehicle wreck at the U.S. 50 and State Road 750 intersection.
“In the beginning, I was against them,” she said, noting difficulties navigating roundabouts in the Indianapolis area.
“However, after driving through the one on (U.S.) 31 (south of Columbus) and the fact that you’re presenting a single-lane (roundabout), I think it might be a good answer,” she said. “You’ve changed my mind.”
After that fatal wreck, INDOT made safety improvements to the intersection, including installing flashers on “Stop Ahead” signage and mounting red flashing lights above and “Cross Traffic Does Not Stop” below larger-than-normal stop signs.
Green said more signage and lighting are needed at the intersection.
“The first time I came through the intersection, I had to make a U-turn because I didn’t know where to go, and I’ve lived in Jennings County and this area my whole life,” she said.
People can provide feedback to the Indiana Department of Transportation about the proposed roundabouts on the west and east ends of North Vernon.
Mail: INDOT Office of Public Involvement, Attn: Rickie Clark, 100 N. Senate Ave., Room N642, Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: Clark at 317-232-6601; INDOT Seymour District customer service center at 877-305-7611
Comments must be submitted by Sept. 30.
For information about the project, visit in.gov/indot/projects/2423.htm.
For information about roundabouts, visit in.gov/indot/3249.htm.