Area heading in a roundabouts way

CRYSTAL LAKE – It’s time to learn the rules of the roundabout because at least three of the trendy circular intersections are planned for the McHenry County area in coming years.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has designs for roundabouts at the intersection of Route 176 and Haligus Road/Mount Thabor Road near Crystal Lake; the intersection of Route 20 and Harmony Road west of Huntley; and the intersection of Route 20 and Marengo Road south of Union.

Illinois has relatively few roundabouts, but this type of intersection is becoming more popular across the country. Traffic experts tout them as a safer alternative to traditional intersections. However, they can be confusing to drivers unfamiliar with them.

Construction on McHenry County’s first roundabout, at the intersection of Route 20 and Harmony Road, could start next summer, said Guy Tridgell, a spokesman for IDOT.

The two others are slated for 2014.

“In these cases, we are looking at areas that aren’t necessarily urban, but that have been in need of some safety improvements,” Tridgell said.

The intersections don’t require traffic lights and dedicated turn lanes, which actually could end up costing more than a roundabout, Tridgell said.

Plans for Route 176 and Haligus Road/Mount Thabor Road are in the engineering phase. From 2004 to 2009, there were 30 accidents at the intersection. None resulted in a fatality. However, there was a fatal accident at the intersection in 2010.

This project would cost an estimated $2.1 million.

Before designs for the intersection are finalized, IDOT plans to conduct a public meeting in the fall to get feedback from the community and review what is being considered. A date for that meeting hasn’t been set, Tridgell said.

While safety is the main reason for the sudden proliferation of roundabouts, some town planners see ancillary benefits.

“Communities are embracing these more these days because of the aesthetic possibilities that can come with landscaping the center median,” Tridgell said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation doesn’t keep track of the number of roundabouts in the country, but the New York Times reported there were about 2,000 nationwide in 2010. France, by comparison, has more than 30,000, the article noted.

A 2001 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that converting from traditional intersections to roundabouts reduced crashes by 40 percent and injury-inducing crashes by 80 percent. Other studies have found roundabouts reduce fuel consumption and vehicle emissions by improving the flow of traffic.

The keys to navigating a modern roundabout are to slow down and yield to the left.

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