CRYSTAL LAKE – Despite concerns, roundabouts soon could be commonplace for drivers in McHenry County.
At least seven modern roundabouts are under consideration or planned for intersections here, according to local and state officials.
The McHenry County Division of Transportation plans to build a roundabout at the intersection of Johnsburg Road, Chapel Hill Road and St. Johns Avenue in Johnsburg. It also is considering roundabouts at the intersection of Dowell and River roads near Island Lake and for the intersection of Charles and Raffel roads near Woodstock.
The Illinois Department of Transportation has designs for roundabouts at the intersection of Route 176 and Haligus Road/Mount Thabor Road near Crystal Lake; the intersection of Route 20 and Harmony Road west of Huntley; and the intersection of Route 20 and Marengo Road south of Union.
Local municipalities are embracing the trend. Last year, Woodstock approved funding for one at the intersection at Lake Avenue and South and Madison streets. At the time, city officials described the intersection as a “gateway” to the Woodstock Square. They said a roundabout would enhance the appearance of the intersection, improve traffic flow and reduce congestion.
Illinois has relatively few roundabouts, but the circular intersections are popping up across the country. Traffic experts tout them as a safer alternative to traditional intersections, but they can be intimidating or confusing to drivers unfamiliar with them.
Roundabouts are catching on because they can be safe, efficient and cheaper than traditional intersections with traffic lights, said Roy Lucke, director of transportation safety programs at Northwestern University Center for Public Safety.
“You can shove a lot more cars through safely,” he said.
A 2001 study of 23 intersections by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that converting from traditional intersections to roundabouts reduced crashes by 40 percent and crashes with injuries by 80 percent.
Lucke said a roundabout may not reduce the total number of crashes, but it “largely eliminates high-speed T-crashes.”
Building a roundabout can be less expensive than putting up traffic lights. MCDOT expects to save $400,000 by constructing a roundabout at Dowell and River roads near Island Lake, officials said.
Other studies have shown roundabouts reduce fuel consumption and vehicle emissions by improving traffic flow.
Although they can be beneficial, Lucke said public education is critical because not all drivers understand how to navigate roundabouts.
Roundabout plans have met with resistance here, MCDOT design manager Wally Dittrich said. Local residents are worried about accidents and access for large emergency vehicles and semitrailers.
“A lot of times it’s fear of the unknown,” he said. “After driving through a roundabout once, they start to understand and view it as a positive.”
MCDOT’s proposed roundabout in Johnsburg would be large enough to accommodate firetrucks and most semitrailers, Dittrich said. Even larger trucks will get through by driving on specially designed truck aprons.
Dittrich and Lucke acknowledged roundabouts won’t work at every intersection. They are better suited for suburban and rural intersections.
Construction on the Johnsburg roundabout could begin next year. Before it’s finished, Dittrich said MCDOT will work with community groups on a driver education campaign.
“A few residents have raised questions about the roundabout – much of it stems from unfamiliarity of how a modern roundabout functions,” Johnsburg Village President Edwin Hettermann wrote in an email to the Northwest Herald. “We know that a comprehensive education campaign will be important as this project moves forward.”