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Officials, residents weigh in on Five Points roundabout plan

Jennifer Sprouse • Mar 14, 2013 at 9:55 PM

Community members, town officials and Tennessee Department of Transportation representatives and consultants met Thursday to discuss a proposed and soon-to-be-implemented solution to the heavily trafficked area in Jonesborough known as Five Points.

Local residents, as well as members of the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen, gathered at the International Storytelling Center just before the start of the TDOT-orchestrated meeting at 5 p.m., bringing with them concerns and questions about a future traffic roundabout at the intersection of Tenn. Highways 81 and 353.

Tom Clinard, TDOT consultant with Alfred Benesch and Co., started the meeting outlining the reasons for the safety project, as well as the progress they’ve made so far.

Clinard explained that out of the five steps toward the project’s completion, they are currently on step four, already bypassing the local request from the town, planning, design and now are finalizing the right of way on certain property affected by the project.

One of the properties affected includes Five Points Grocery, which has now been acquired by the state.

Owner Kelly Street said that her part in the project is settled, saying, “I’m just waiting on the check. A lot of people have wanted a stoplight, but ... the town wouldn’t even consider a stoplight because they’d have to pay for it. They settled on this traffic circle, so I guess I’ll settle on this traffic circle.”

Street said TDOT “has been as nice as they can be to me. I have nothing for this town. Nothing. I wouldn’t open another business in this town if it was the last place on this earth.”

Clinard said his team examined all solutions for the roundabout, making a pro and con list of having a roundabout versus a traffic signal.

Pros for the roundabout included having less severe crashes, the lack of signals eliminates maintenance and safety operations would be unaffected if there should be a power outage. Some cons included poor performance at volume levels, as well as motorists’ unfamiliarity with driving in a roundabout.

Factors in favor of a signal light included operating better at higher volumes, as well as motorists’ familiarity with a working traffic light.

Factors against a signal light were the increased frequency of severe crashes due to crossing travel paths and maintenance would be needed for both the hardware and the software of the traffic signal.

A short roundabout tutorial video was shown to those in attendance Thursday, which showed traffic patterns and the flow of operating with a traffic circle.

Jonesborough resident Ed Canter asked how traffic flow would work as school was letting out at David Crocket High School. Clinard said additional counts were done at school dismissal times and were calculated in the volumes of traffic.

Canter said after the meeting that he believes TDOT is picking the safest solution to the problem.

“What they’ve done is the only thing that they could’ve done. It’s all they could’ve done to make it safe without somebody getting killed,” he said. “I don’t mind slowing down there because ... if you put a light there, people try to beat (it), somebody’s going to get hurt. I’d like to say I don’t like (the roundabout), but I’d be lying.”

Jones-borough native McKinley Jenkins said before the meeting that he was curious about the roundabout plans and said he was supportive of installing a red light.

“I think they should allow (residents) to vote on it. They’re the ones that have to deal with the traffic,” Jenkins said. “The morning rush traffic for work, it’s still going to be there (whether) you have a stop sign or (whether) you have (a) red light. I’m concerned with the safety of the people and I think a red light would make it more safe than something that goes around.”

He said after the meeting he was still skeptical of the plans moving forward and said he would like to see more studies on the project.

Town Administrator Bob Browning said he was glad TDOT took the time to have a public meeting, and added he felt the video helped in the presentation of the roundabout to the audience.

Browning said the Board of Mayor and Aldermen did weigh the options of having either the traffic circle or the traffic light, but said they concluded the roundabout would be a safer choice.

“Obviously, from the standpoint of the town, we’re looking at what’s in the best interest of the general public, what’s the safest way to deal with that. You’re not going to make everybody happy,” he said.

The construction of the roundabout is projected to start in the summer, and TDOT’s Design Division said the project should take anywhere from six to eight months to complete.

TDOT representatives said the roundabout, which will be 136 feet in diameter, will have proper signage for those coming up on the circle, as well as large traffic arrows in the pavement to indicate direction of travel in the roundabout. There will also be a green space in the center of the roundabout.

Comment cards were also available at Thursday’s meeting for those in attendance wishing to voice a concern about the project.

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