The public was able to see the plans for a proposed roundabout at the Five Points intersection and voice concerns about it during a public meeting Thursday night.
The city of Grand Island’s Public Works Department hosted the public meeting at Blessed Sacrament, just east of the intersection. Under the proposal, a two-lane roundabout would be constructed at Five Points beginning in spring 2021. Project Engineer Tim Golka said the project should take six months to complete, weather permitting.
According to an information sheet provided at the meeting, the project would be constructed under a full closure of the intersection with detours.
The detour for Broadwell Avenue traffic would utilize 13th Street, Webb Road and Capital Avenue; State Street traffic would utilize Custer Avenue, Capital Avenue and Wheeler Street; and Eddy Street traffic would utilize 10th Street, Broadwell Avenue, 13th Street, Webb Road and Capital Avenue.
Golka said the roundabout project started in 2016 when the public works department hired Olsson Associates to evaluate a signal and signage plan for Five Points. He said the firm evaluated the intersection, looked at the reasons for traffic delays and looked at crash patterns.
Shane King, project manager for Olsson Associates, said there were 44 collisions at the Five Points Intersection from 2013 to 2016.
“When we started looking at new signals, we started to understand we could not really reduce the lane configuration and the travel patterns,” Golka said. “We have five legs that are locked in and the movements are going to be the same. Without us doing something different, we cannot change those crash patterns. In maintaining the lane configuration we have today, we also cannot really do anything with the signal to optimize the delay.”
After realizing that replacing the signals would not fix any of the issues at Five Points, Golka said the public works department and Olsson Associates began to look at alternatives and a roundabout was discussed. It was then that the city approached the state about taking on the project and submitting it for federal highway dollars.
Golka said the city presented this plan to the state in spring 2017 and it was approved in fall 2017. The project was then approved for federal funding.
“At that point, we had a secure funding source to help us build the roundabout,” he said. “The state got on board because the roundabout option was going to reduce the severity of crashes and we were also going to be reducing the delays with the roundabout.”
Golka said the roundabout project will be 70% federally funded and 30% locally funded. The estimated cost of the project is $2.9 million.
Grand Island Public Works Director John Collins said there are 15 properties impacted by the roundabout project and the city may have to get construction easements. He emphasized it will not know for sure until it is further along in the project timeline.
“There is one property that we will probably be taking that is a rental property on the corner,” Collins said. “The property owner called us wanting to sell it a couple years ago,” Collins said. “If the plans turn out with the same positions as what we expect, the city would probably buy that property.”
Collins said some of the concerns at Thursday night’s public meeting were about how the roundabout would affect traffic delays and pedestrians.
“We did some pedestrian counts and there are not very many. However, a roundabout is much safer because they are only crossing one lane a time, he said. “Right now, there is a delay of about 34 seconds going through the intersection. That will go down to 11 seconds. It is a huge increase in speed and drivers are not going faster. Because there is no delay entering the roundabout to speak of, they will get where they are going faster.”
Grand Island Senior High Principal Jeff Gilbertson said he thinks the most important part of the project is safety for student drivers. He said the roundabout will “drastically improve” the prevention of accidents around GISH by allowing students and families to drive through Five Points in a calmer, safer manner.
Gilbertson added he also feels a roundabout will make students be on time to school as they will spend less time sitting and waiting at a stoplight. He said he feels the roundabout will also improve backup of traffic as it will allow it to flow easier and faster through the intersection.
“The biggest question I am hearing is (about) the volume of traffic and how the roundabout will handle it,” he said. “But I think I have had those questions answered here tonight. The other big concern is the construction and all of the detours. I had those questions answered tonight as well.”
Gilbertson said one concern he has about the project is being able to provide information to Grand Island Public Schools’ stakeholders about how to properly drive through the roundabout. He said the high school would have “a little training” to educate students on how to do so.
Not everyone who attended Thursday night’s public meeting was in favor of a roundabout at Five Points. Linda Martin called the proposed roundabout project “a big waste of money,” saying the city should use that money to fund more fire personnel for the Grand Island Fire Department.
“All they need is better traffic lights and signage. Instead of using all this money to make this ridiculous roundabout, they could fix all the holes in the roads that need to be fixed,” she said. “They are going to find a lot of utilities there like they found out on 13th Street for the fire department. This (Five Points) has more than that.”
Mary Merithew also expressed concerns about the amount of utilities at Five Points. She said with the amount of businesses at the intersection, she expected crews to run into utilities they didn’t know were there and the project “will take them longer than they figured.”
During construction, “they are going to send the traffic down 13th Street and Custer Avenue and I live on that corner,” Merithew said. “I am never going to get out of my driveway with all that traffic, plus the (existing) school traffic. It will be horrendous.”