Roundabout proposals receive mixed reviews in Walker

La. 447 area targeted

A pair of proposals to build roundabouts along La. 447 in Walker are receiving mixed reviews from business leaders and public officials, who expressed concerns about customer counts, school bus routes and the lack of funding for widening an overpass at Interstate 12.

The two options would rely on roundabouts, U-turns and concrete medians to control traffic flow and increase safety along a 10.2-mile stretch of highway from Burgess Avenue to La. 16 at Port Vincent, according to a set of concept drawings prepared by the engineering and planning firm Neel-Schaffer.

The first option would place 10 roundabouts along La. 447. They would be at the state highway’s intersections with Burgess Avenue, U.S. 190, Fern Street/Aydell Lane, Stine home improvement store, Wal-Mart/Winn-Dixie, I-12’s eastbound and westbound ramps, O’Donovan Boulevard at Our Lady of the Lake, Buddy Ellis Road and La. 16.

No other community in the state has as many roundabouts running through a commercial corridor, though similar designs are in the works for other cities, said Daniel Thornhill, a Neel-Schaffer project engineer.

Roundabouts at interstate ramps also have not yet been built in Louisiana, but have been proposed for other cities, including Hammond and Gonzales.

The second option is similar but would include fewer roundabouts, omitting those at Wal-Mart/Winn-Dixie, Stine and Fern Street/Aydell Lane.

Intersections at those points would instead become RCUT, or restricted crossing U-turn intersections, in which side-street traffic seeking to turn left onto La. 447 must first turn right onto the highway, then make a U-turn.

Highway traffic could still make left turns at those intersections.

Both options would involve widening La. 447 to three lanes with a center turn lane from La. 16 to Buddy Ellis Road, and widening La. 447 to four lanes with a concrete median from Buddy Ellis Road to Burgess Avenue.

The plans are only in the concept phase, spokesman Brendan Rush said during a state Department of Transportation and Development open house Dec. 9 at the Livingston Parish Literacy and Technology Center in Walker.

However, federal safety funding has been identified for the pair of roundabouts at the I-12 ramps, projected to cost $5 million to $8 million, and part of the project could be put out for bid by December 2014, Rush said.

Roundabouts typically take 6 months to a year to build, he said.

Funding has not been found for the rest of the project and there’s no timeline in place.

Walker Mayor Rick Ramsey said the lack of funding designated for widening the I-12 overpass is problematic. Expanding the two-lane bridge is key to reducing congestion and should be the first area of focus, Ramsey said.

Rush agreed that widening the overpass is important, but said the roundabouts will help alleviate some of the congestion even without an expanded bridge.

“Widening the overpass certainly would make the roundabouts work better, but the reverse is also true. The roundabouts will improve traffic flow on the overpass,” Rush said.

Widening the bridge will likely cost $10 million to $15 million, DOTD traffic engineer Jodi Colvin said.

Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce Director April Wehrs said business owners are curious to see how the plans will develop.

“(La.) 447 has been part of this group’s legislative agenda for years, especially the widening to ease congestion,” Wehrs said. “It’s been a mixed reaction from the business community. Basically we’re just looking at it and taking a very deliberated approach.”

The group plans to invite a DOTD representative to speak at a future chamber meeting, she said.

Business owners quizzed DOTD officials at the open house about the potential impact on sales if drivers find the twists and turns too inconvenient to navigate.

Rush said drivers likely will find shorter wait times going through roundabouts to make U-turns and right turns than if they had waited in a center turn lane for an opportunity to turn left.

Roundabouts also are safer, Rush said. The circular paths eliminate 90-degree impact angles and lower driving speeds, reducing fatalities by 90 percent, he said.

Fewer crashes means less congestion as well, Rush said, citing a statistic that for every 1 minute of road blockage, there will be 4 minutes of traffic congestion.

Eliminating turn options may cause a few headaches for public school bus drivers.

Livingston Parish Superintendent John Watson pointed to a potential problem at Milton Lane and La. 447.

Both proposals call for an RCUT intersection there, forcing left-turning traffic north before it can head south.

Watson said half or more of the 20 buses leaving South Walker Elementary School each day will need to turn left, but would instead be redirected to the roundabout — which would have traffic from the I-12 eastbound ramps — in order to make a U-turn.

It is a scenario he and the school system’s transportation department will have to troubleshoot, he said.