South Columbia residents debate city’s plan to add roundabouts on Nifong

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Mike McMillen raises questions about an increase in traffic near two projected roundabouts during a meeting Tuesday at Mill Creek Elementary School. “I live about three-quarters of a mile south of the affected intersection, Nifong and Sinclair,“ McMillen said. “With the new school, there’s going to be more traffic.”

COLUMBIA — Nifong Boulevard will get two new roundabouts, but their proximity to an elementary school and a planned middle school has some nearby residents concerned.

The $3.1 million project includes construction of a roundabout where Nifong turns into Vawter School Road, and another where Nifong intersects with Sinclair.

The intersection at Sinclair and Nifong is right next to Mill Creek Elementary and a mile from a prospective site for a new middle school.

About 40 people attended an open house Tuesday evening at Mill Creek Elementary to ask questions about and discuss the roundabout plans with project managers.

Allison Anderson, the city’s engineering supervisor, said that based on traffic counts and projected traffic flow analysis, roundabouts would be the best solution for current traffic congestion at the intersections.

“It really backs up at 5 o’clock, especially at Sinclair,” Anderson said. “The four-way stops are, in general, hard to get the traffic through since everybody has to stop and go.”

Sandra Beck, a 16-year resident of nearby neighborhood Hunters Ridge, said she has seen the traffic double since she moved to the neighborhood.

“We do need something for the intersections,” Beck said. “This solution is to move the traffic through it quickly so that (residents) can get home earlier.”

Some residents at the open house, however, seemed dissatisfied with the city’s plan to add more roundabouts so close to a school area.

John Karles, a 12-year resident of the Mill Creek neighborhood, expressed concerns about children’s safety around the intersections. Karles has his two children in Mill Creek Elementary.

“I don’t mind a roundabout, but in a school zone, no … there’s not enough lights to let them know it’s a school zone,” he said. “When you go through a roundabout, what would you do? You got to speed through it. It’s dangerous for the kids and parents crossing the streets.”

In fact, research shows that roundabouts are safer than stop signs and traffic signals because they force drivers to slow. According to data on the state of Washington’s Department of Transportation, roundabouts reduce injury-causing traffic crashes by 75 percent.

The projects will be funded by the city’s quarter-cent capital improvement tax that was approved by voters in August 2015. Construction of each roundabout is scheduled to start in 2019. Other public meetings on the issue will be scheduled in the coming months.

Supervising editor is John Sadler.

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