Come 2022 or thereabouts, Franklin County drivers will take a counterclockwise spin into the unknown — or at least, the unfamiliar. That’s the year now projected for construction on the first-ever roundabout in the county, at the intersection of Burnt Chimney and Brooks Mill roads in Wirtz.
Who knew the reworking of this simple-looking intersection would one day cost $3.9 million? That, however, is the price the Virginia Department of Transportation has estimated for this crossroads work as a portion of the Virginia Smart Scale program aimed at improvements to traffic safety.
This intersection has proved deadly. In 2016, a four-way stop intersection was created after a fatal crash. That also led to the proposal placing the Burnt Chimney/Brooks Mill site on the state funding list for an upgrade to a roundabout.
For the uninitiated driver, there are a few rules of the road to observe about roundabouts. The first is that drivers entering the roundabout must yield to traffic already moving counterclockwise in the circle. The second is that drivers entering the circle must join the counterclockwise traffic flow. And the third is to reduce speed as you enter the roundabout, so that you’re doing 15-20 mph as you circle the intersection until exiting to your right.
As a result, studies show, traffic moves smoother, with less congestion, because it’s a continuous flow in the traffic circle. According to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, roundabouts contributed to an 89% reduction in delays and a 56% decline in stops by vehicles.
All this sounds simple, but some drivers who are new to roundabouts have trouble navigating the reality of one. They can take some solace in a Federal Highway Administration study that has found roundabouts can significantly reduce crashes that result in injuries or deaths.
How significantly? The highway administration says studies show a 78-82% reduction in people being seriously hurt or killed at high-risk intersections. And roughly 25% of all traffic deaths in the United States are linked to intersections. So, roundabouts have proved be a safer and more efficient type of traffic feature than the typical intersection.
For the skeptics, curiosity seekers or those wanting more information about the Burnt Chimney/Brooks Mill roads project, a public hearing is slated Aug. 27 at Burnt Chimney Elementary School, where VDOT officials will be on hand to discuss the roundabout concept and answer any questions. Admission is free.