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Four roundabouts in planning stages in McHenry County

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Roundabouts may be foreign to most drivers, but four are being planned in McHenry County.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has proposed two roundabouts in Coral Township: Route 20 and Harmony Road, and 3 miles north at Route 20 and Beck Road.

The McHenry County Division of Transportation plans roundabouts at Johnsburg and Chapel Hill roads in Johnsburg, and at River and Dowell roads east of Holiday Hills.

Assistant County Engineer Jeff Young said engineering has been completed for the Johnsburg roundabout, with construction to begin this year or next. Preliminary engineering is being done for the River and Dowell roads roundabout.

In Coral Township, Supervisor Roger Naylor said he will meet with IDOT on Thursday to set up a public hearing in June or July regarding both Route 20 roundabouts.

“We want to know how they will reduce accidents, their pluses and downsides,” Naylor said. “A concern I’ve voiced is that we have not been in the loop at all.”

Naylor said he was concerned about the Route 20-Beck Road intersection because of the convergence of roads there. South Union, Marengo, Beck and Route 20 form a triangle near Rowland Machinery and Wild West Town Restaurant and Bar.

“I’ve not seen any of the official documents,” Naylor said. “There seems to be some confusion on the state side about what might be needed.”

The Harmony Road project appears to be further along. IDOT engineer Guy Tridgell said design approval is expected this spring, and land acquisition should begin later this year.

“Construction will begin in the early part of the 2012-2017 Highway Improvement Program,” Tridgell said.

“Roundabouts are a trendy thing in transportation right now,” Tridgell said. “We want to experiment with them at a few locations where there is lighter traffic to see what kind of impact they do have.”

Tridgell said that while a final determination has not been made about what land will be needed for the roundabouts, a former schoolhouse at the southwest corner of Route 20 and Harmony Road definitely will need to be removed.

Built 81 years ago, the schoolhouse has been home to Harmony Real Estate since 1975. Inside the front door on a wall is a bronze plaque that reads: “Harmony Grade School District 4, 1931. Frank Henning, President.”

The original blackboards are still on the walls in the single room upstairs. Downstairs includes space for what may have been one or two other classrooms.

“It’s a beauty,” McHenry County Historical Society Administrator Nancy Fike said. “It made the transition of what it was designed to do into a productive office building.”

“I hope they find somebody interested in moving it,” Fike said.

Across the street, Martin and Susan Horn said they think the roundabout will shave a corner off their property. They hope it doesn’t take an outbuilding that once was a blacksmith shop.

“A roundabout makes absolutely no sense,” Susan Horn said. “We thought they would put traffic lights there five years ago.” That was when McHenry County reduced the grade on Harmony Road about 75 yards east of Route 20.

There are no stop signs for Route 20 traffic at the Harmony or Beck roads intersections.

Martin Horn said traffic is heavy at rush hour. He said Route 20 has become busier since rates were raised on the tollway.

“When you put semis and agricultural vehicles in the mix,” he said, “it’s going to be a mess.”

Martin Horn said he believes traffic lights at the intersection would be better.

“I told IDOT a roundabout is a ridiculous waste of real estate and resources,” he said.

Martin Horn is from England, where roundabouts are common.

“In England and Europe, they have a history with roundabouts,” he said. “They know who’s going to do what when. Roundabouts are foreign to drivers here.”

What is a roundabout?

A roundabout is a circular intersection where drivers travel counterclockwise around a center island. There are no traffic signals or stop signs in a modern roundabout. Drivers yield at entry to traffic in the roundabout, then enter the intersection and exit at their desired street. Studies by the Federal Highway Administration have found that roundabouts can increase traffic capacity by 30 percent to 50 percent compared to traditional intersections.

Source: Washington State Department of Transportation

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