Today, we're venturing into the realm of setting the record straight. I've received several emails, one of them last week, complaining about the cost of putting roundabouts at more and more intersections in Columbus.
I've also noticed such complaints in the comments section (that bastion of cogency) following stories online.
The recent email, from Concerned Taxpayer Randy, was a general complaint about unwise government spending, and included: "Just like the roundabouts they are putting everywhere. From what I've seen the round a bouts cost around $350,000 and I surely believe we could put stop lights up far more cheaply than that. I have questioned this before and I was told they don't want to stop the traffic they just want to slow it down. What sense does that make?"
As it turns out, it makes a lot of sense.
First, as to the cost, Randy low-balled it. One of the less expensive, but more basic roundabouts is the one at Warm Springs and Blackmon roads. It cost $389,000. A standard arrangement of traffic signals installed, including the poles, wiring and control box, would cost in the neighborhood of $150,000-$200,000, said Donna Newman, the city's director of engineering.
But then we start talking about operations and maintenance.
The city (which is you) pays $75-$85 a year per intersection for electricity. Then you have signals getting taken out by bad weather and bad drivers. Then you have to pay a police officer to direct traffic until they can get it back up and running. Light bulbs need changing periodically, and they are neither cheap nor easy to swap out.
There is much less costly maintenance for a roundabout. A city crew might have to come out a couple of times a year and do some landscaping, but that's about it.
Besides, whatever you think about roundabouts, you'd better get used to them.
State and federal regulations require a city to do an engineering study and prove that a roundabout won't work before it can get a permit to install a new signal intersection, Newman said.
"They're popping up all over the country," Newman said. "You even see them at the end of on and off ramps along the interstates."
Newman also said they are safer than conventional intersections.
"Because of the speed and angle of impact, if there are collisions in a roundabout, you're less likely to be seriously injured," Newman said. "You're much less likely to suffer a traumatic injury. You can get T-boned in a signaled intersection."
They're also much more efficient as far as moving traffic, Newman said. Think about it: How many times have you sat at a red light with no traffic in sight left or right? You're sitting there for no better reason than you don't want to risk a ticket.
So like I said, roundabouts are more expensive up front, but much lower maintenance. And anyone who has ever been married knows that's a bargain.
Seen something that needs attention? Contact me at 706-571-8570.