City approves dual-lane roundabout for Wakarusa Drive

Lawrence city commissioners peered into the future Tuesday night and agreed that it includes a roundabout on one of the busier streets in West Lawrence.

On a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved plans for a dual-lane roundabout — a first in the city — at Wakarusa Drive and Inverness/Legends drive. Work is expected to begin in 2014.

Commissioners agreed that the intersection doesn’t currently meet the traffic volumes to require a roundabout, but a majority said they believe they can save money by building the roundabout today as part of a larger project to rebuild a portion of Wakarusa Drive.

“Right now, we don’t need it, but in the future we are going to need it,” City Commissioner Terry Riordan said. “If we wait to build a roundabout later that will be one of the most expensive options we have.”

City engineers recommended the construction of the roundabout, but told commissioners Tuesday they could not predict when traffic volumes would warrant a roundabout for the intersection, which currently functions fine with a set of four-way stop signs, engineers said.

“I can’t predict whether it will be five years or 10 years down the road when we need it,” City Engineer David Cronin said. “But we are very confident this is an area where traffic volumes are going to grow.”

The roundabout is expected to cost about $350,000 to install, compared to $500,000 engineers estimated for a traffic signal. But Mayor Mike Dever, who lives near the intersection, said he was convinced the intersection could function well for the foreseeable future with a system of four-way stop signs.

Public comment at Tuesday’s meeting was mixed on whether commissioners should pursue the roundabout or simply repair the road and leave the four-way stop signs in place. But several commissioners said they did receive a significant amount of negative comments about the proposed roundabout prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said he was among the Lawrence residents who had strong opinions against roundabouts, but he voted for the project after engineers presented data from several studies suggesting roundabouts improved both motorist and pedestrian safety.

Engineers cited studies that found a 39 percent overall decrease in crashes at intersections with roundabouts and a 90 percent reduction in injury crashes, mainly because speeds are generally slower at roundabouts and the chances of a t-bone collision are less than at a traditional intersection.

“I thought the data would support my emotional view about roundabouts, but it didn’t,” Farmer said. “People are going to be upset by this project, but it is safer, and that is the message we need to send.”

Commissioner Mike Amyx was the lone commissioner to vote against the project. He noted the intersection only has registered seven crashes over the last three years, and none of them were injury accidents. Amyx lobbied for commissioners to do the necessary pavement improvements on Wakarusa, and to install underground conduit that could support a traffic signal when vehicle volumes warranted it.

The roundabout work and the larger project to rebuild the section of Wakarusa Drive — just south and north of the intersection — are scheduled to take place in the summer and fall of 2014.

In other news, commissioners:

• Unanimously approved year-end longevity payments to city employees who have worked for the city for five or more consecutive years. The annual program pays eligible employees $48 per year of service. The city estimates it will pay about $420,000 to 587 employees this year.

• Approved an agreement with Baker University to begin work on a wetland mitigation project to meet federal requirements related to a project to extend 31st Street between Haskell Avenue and O’Connell Road. The contract, which has a maximum value of about $61,000, will allow Baker to build and maintain about 11 acres of wetlands and riparian areas near the area where Haskell Avenue crosses the Wakarusa River.