Drivers in McHenry County soon will have to get used to navigating the first roundabouts planned there by county and state transportation officials.
The McHenry County Division of Transportation is planning to build a roundabout in downtown Johnsburg, with construction starting as soon as 2013. It is also considering building one at River and Dowell roads near Island Lake, and at Charles and Raffle roads just north of Woodstock, said MCDOT design manager Wally Dittrich. The city of Woodstock is looking at building one downtown, he said.
Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Guy Tridgell said a public meeting will be held in the fall to inform residents and gather comments from them regarding three roundabouts the department is planning in McHenry County: on Route 176 at Mt. Thabor and Haligus roads by Crystal Lake, and at two locations west of Huntley, on Route 20 at Harmony Road, and on Route 20 at Beck Road and Marengo Huntley Road.
The only roundabout in McHenry County so far is in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Johnsburg, Dittrich said. Roundabouts are very popular in Wisconsin, which has more than 100, but still relatively new to the Chicago area, he said.
They are also very common in European countries, such as England and Italy.
"Within the last three or four years they've been really evaluated more closely by the engineering communities as good solutions to difficult problems. It's not right for every intersection, but it's certainly a tool we give a lot of consideration to now," he said.
Intersections with open visibility and equal volumes of traffic on both roads are good candidates for roundabouts, Tridgell said.
There are a few roundabouts in Lake County, with more on the way, and one planned in Kane County, Tridgell said. There are also sporadic roundabouts in residential areas, and one at Randhurst Village in Mount Prospect.
Traffic in roundabouts moves more efficiently than with traffic lights because vehicles usually doesn't come to a full stop, and there are no T-bone accidents given the angle of traffic, Dittrich said. "You're not getting somebody blowing through at 40 mph," he said.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, a 2007 study shows that roundabouts yielded a 35 percent reduction in overall crashes and 76 percent reduction in injury crashes, compared to conventional intersections. Roundabouts are also more environmentally friendly because of reduced emissions and noise because vehicles don't stop at traffic lights, the website says.
Also, roundabouts are less expensive, Dittrich said. The River and Dowell roads roundabout is estimated to cost $2.4 million, a savings of about $400,000 over the $2.8 million cost of building a traffic signal intersection.
The IDOT projects are estimated to cost between $2.5 million and $4 million, Tridgell said.
People should note the different between a roundabout and a circle intersection, Tridgell said. The intersection of Wolf and Golf roads in Des Plaines has a circle, for example.
In a roundabout, which are usually smaller than circles, traffics yields before entering, while in a circle, traffic has to make a stop marked by stop signs.
Roundabouts also lend themselves to better aesthetics, Tridgell said.
"We will be paying special attention to these locations (in McHenry County) because we wanted to try roundabout construction in maybe more rural areas that don't have significantly high-traffic volumes, so we can monitor to see if there is a possibility of more widespread use," Tridgell said.
Although drivers may be initially intimidated, roundabouts are easy to navigate, Dittrich said.
"There's plenty of studies out there that show once people drive though it, they are really very intuitive," he said.