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Solutions sought for traffic controls

Sheila Gardner

Minden Town Board officials have made tentative overtures to the Nevada Department of Transportation to install a pilot “roundabout” to slow traffic at the busy intersection of Highway 88 and County Road.

“I was very skeptical when I first heard about it,” said Beth Wilhelm, landscape architect with Resource Concepts, Inc., the town’s engineering firm. “But it really slows down traffic and eliminates points of conflict, or the potential for cars to impact pedestrians.”

The town, which has lobbied unsuccessfully for a traffic signal at the intersection, agreed to try the traffic safety device on a temporary basis with the understanding that if the roundabout doesn’t work, it could be removed and the intersection would get a stop light.

Traffic at the intersection has mushroomed in the past few years with the opening of several new office buildings, paramedic station, and day care center, in addition to the swim center, library, and high school. Nevada Department of Transportation figures indicate that 11,000 vehicles a day pass through the intersection. Plans are in the works for a recreation center behind the swimming pool and another office building.

Fran Houle, chair of the Be Overly Street Safe coalition, said she supports the concept. Houle formed the BOSS coalition following the death of her 14-year-old grandson in June 1995. The boy, Tony Cooper, died after he was struck by a vehicle as he crossed Highway 395 in a Gardnerville crosswalk.

“When my grandson died, I was the first one to say, ‘We need a stoplight.’ But stoplights are the not the answer at this intersection.”

Houle said the roundabout is a new concept in Nevada, but very common back East and in Europe.

“To slow down the traffic is much more prudent than to stop people with drivers more likely to speed to the next stop light,” said Houle, referring to the proposal to put a stop light at that intersection which would be close to the light at the intersection of highways 88 and 395.

The pilot roundabout was featured at the BOSS Coalition’s recent Walkable Community’s seminar.

Town board member Ross Chichester, also a lieutenant with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and a member of the BOSS coalition, said he doesn’t believe the intersection is the appropriate location for the roundabout, but he is willing to try it.

“If it doesn’t work, then we’ve met the warrants for the traffic light,” Chichester said. “That’s a fair tradeoff.”

NDOT sets a list of criteria which must be met before the agency will approve installation of a traffic light. The town and the businesses and agencies at the intersection have already set aside money to pay for a light, but NDOT has determined that there’s not enough traffic at the site for a signal.

“I’m game,” said town board member Bob Hadfield. “Something has to be done. I’m so upset with that intersection.”

According to NDOT, 50 percent of the occupants of the area must agree to the temporary roundabout before it can be installed. Houle said BOSS coalition members would be willing to survey businesses and residents in the area.

The town agreed to try the proposal for 180 days as long as NDOT is willing to remove the device if it’s not successful.

“If it’s not successful, the intersection automatically meets warrants for a traffic signal,” said Chichester.

Sue Newberry of the state Division of Traffic Safety, said a roundabout differs from a traffic circle.

“In a traffic circle, the traffic in the circle yields to merging traffic. In a roundabout, the traffic coming in yields to traffic already there,” Newberry said.

“We’re mimicking something which is very popular in Washington,” she said. “Proponents feel that rather than pull to a stop (at a light), then gun their vehicles, traffic in the roundabout goes at a slower, more consistent rate of speed.”