New way of getting 'round

Safety upgrade on Lake roads

It's hard to know what to expect when a road improvement comes with driving instructions, but Lake County officials are confident they have a winning formula for two intersections in Old Mill Creek.

Roundabouts, regarded by the county as a new option to traffic signals or stop signs, are being installed at successive intersections on Hunt Club Road at Wadsworth Road and Millburn Road.

With the former nearing completion, a new traffic pattern will be put in place July 9 to allow for construction of the latter, when Hunt Club at Millburn will be closed. The roundabout at Wadsworth Road will open at that time, but traffic won't be allowed to the south.

Although being built separately, the pair are considered as a single project to ease traffic delays through the middle of horse country in north central Lake County.

The three-way-stop intersections each are being replaced with a circular configuration in which drivers proceed counterclockwise around a raised, landscaped center island until they reach the point they want to exit.

The idea is to keep traffic moving, avoid backups and reduce the chance of serious accidents.

But it will take some getting used to.

“People have to get acclimated to them. They need to be educated,” said Kevin Zupec, project manager for contractor Campanella & Sons.

The Lake County Division of Transportation agrees and has posted general information about roundabouts on its website. There also is a short video.

“If you have never driven a roundabout, it may look intimidating, but they are very easy to navigate,” the narrator promises.

County board member Linda Pedersen, whose district includes part of Old Mill Creek, plans to send informational brochures to her constituents.

“There are some people who are upset about them,” she said. “It's something new. It's something different.”

Pedersen said she is familiar with roundabouts, having driven on them in Ireland and New Zealand, and thinks they work well.

“I like the idea. Even though it's a well-traveled road, it's not a heavily congested road,” she added. “If we're bringing them into Lake County, it's a nice place to start.”

The Hunt Club Road roundabouts will be the second and third installed by Lake County on public roads. The first, which replaced a four-way stop at Everett Road and Riverwoods Road near Lincolnshire, opened last fall.

“People were really skeptical. I was a little skeptical myself at first,” said county board member Ann Maine of Lincolnshire. “People will adjust, and they'll get the hang of it.”

Notorious morning and evening traffic backups have all but disappeared, she added.

“Overall, people have been really happy.”

Roundabouts are prevalent in many countries, and the modern versions were introduced in the United States in 1990 in Nevada. Several states have active programs to build roundabouts, but they are rare in Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Transportation reports none in Cook or the collar counties, for example, and there are no immediate plans to build any.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, has 104 roundabouts on the state system, with 47 more under construction this year, according to Patrick Fleming of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

There also are 57 local roundabouts, with the first two installed in 1999 near Green Bay. The state began its program in 2004.

“At this time, we feel the safety benefits of roundabouts are very compelling as the statistics indicate when compared to other intersection controls such as signals or stop control,” Fleming said in an email.

Roundabouts, on average, reduce fatalities by 90 percent and reduce injury crashes by 75 percent compared to those other types of controls, he added.

Wisconsin is examining crash data on roundabouts built through 2007. Preliminary results show the severity of crashes has been reduced across the board, although the number of crashes may have increased at some roundabout intersections, Fleming said.

Transportation experts also contend roundabouts reduce air pollution because cars don't stop or idle. Lake County, for example, received a federal air quality grant to cover 80 percent of the $2.65 million cost of the Hunt Club Road roundabouts.

Lake County considers roundabouts as one alternative when considering ways to reduce delays at intersections, said Al Giertych, assistant county engineer.

“From a safety perspective, they all but eliminate the serious T-bone collisions at intersections,” he said. “With a roundabout, by design, you enter at a tangent to the circle. If you did get into a collision, it would be a glancing blow.”

Giertych said the intersections were performing very poorly in terms of levels of service and suffered from long delays.

Others roundabouts in the development stage include Cedar Lake Road and Monaville Road in Lake Villa, scheduled for next year, and River Road at Roberts Road in Barrington, scheduled for 2014, Giertych said.

He emphasized these structures are much different from the traffic circle that has been in place for decades at Golf and Wolf roads in Des Plaines.

“That's not a roundabout,” he said. Among the differences: drivers are required to stop rather than yield; there are too many legs; and the entrances and exits aren't uniform.

“You have to overcome the perception,” Giertych said of motorists who may be familiar with the Des Plaines traffic circle. “They're concerned that's what you're going to build.”