Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Using Fife’s new SR 99 roundabout

By Lizzy Buechel

What do you call a round intersection with multiple lanes and exits? Well. …it depends! If you're in New England, you might call it a rotary; in New Jersey, a traffic circle; and in Fife: the newly opened State Route 99 roundabout!

In case you didn't already know, as part of the SR 167 Completion Project, we built the first SR 99 roundabout in the state. This work connects SR 99 to the new Wapato Way East Bridge over I-5. The roundabout replaced a nearby traffic signal where significant backups were common. Now, traffic flows through the roundabout to reduce congestion and improve freight mobility between Fife and the nearby Port of Tacoma.

The SR 167 Completion Project includes a new SR 99 roundabout and four-lane Wapato Way East Bridge.

What to expect
As we mentioned, multi-lane roundabouts like the one in Fife move traffic more consistently than traffic signals. The reason is simple; traffic is not required to stop – only yield – which allows more vehicles to move through in the same amount of time.

Skeptical that we can all share one roundabout? It does take some getting used to. Rest assured, we worked with the city of Fife, the Port of Tacoma, and the freight community to make sure the roundabout could safely accommodate the large trucks that will use it frequently, as well as cars and people who walk and bike through the area. Washington has plenty of experience to draw upon, with more than 100 multi-lane roundabouts (some in place for more than a decade). There are multi-lane roundabouts on US 2 in the Spokane area, in the Yakima and Tri-Cities areas, and several in the Bellingham/Lynden area. National studies prove that roundabouts are safer than intersections with stop signs or signals. Studies from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Federal Highway Administration show:

  • 90 percent fewer fatality collisions in roundabouts
  • 75 percent fewer injury collisions in roundabouts
  • A 40 percent reduction in pedestrian collisions
  • A 37 percent reduction in overall collisions

Two important tips for driving a multi-lane roundabout
It may be a little intimidating the first time around, but these two important tips could make your travels safer.

  • Tip one: Many people don't know that by law, large trucks are permitted to straddle the lanes to move through the roundabout. So your best defense is to give trucks plenty of space. Don't drive next to or try to pass a truck inside the roundabout.
  • Tip two: Always slow down when entering the roundabout; the posted speed limit on SR 99 is 35 mph and a safe roundabout speed is 15 mph.

Driving the new SR 99 roundabout
Drivers enter the roundabout from either SR 99 or Wapato Way East and then travel in one of three directions: South on SR 99, north on SR 99 or onto Wapato Way East. Like other high-volume roundabouts designed with trucks in mind, this roundabout has two lanes that are wider than typical lanes, which make it easier for trucks to navigate the roundabout. There are also two "slip" lanes for vehicles to enter or exit the bridge without going through the roundabout. The new SR 99 roundabout also has sidewalks and crosswalks for people who bike, roll, and walk in the area. These crosswalks have pedestrian activated flashing beacons for added safety. Drivers should always yield to pedestrians and pedestrians should always use the marked crosswalks and wait for traffic to stop before crossing roundabout lanes.

Know before you go
The graphics below will help you plan your trip so you know what to expect before you travel through the roundabout.

If you are continuing south on SR 99 or getting onto southbound SR 99 from the new bridge,
you can use either lane of the roundabout.
To access the new bridge from northbound SR 99, use the right “slip” lane to bypass the roundabout.
To access the new bridge from southbound SR 99, use the left lane and stay in it as you proceed through the roundabout.

If you've been trying to wrap your head around roundabouts throughout this blog, but feel like you are just going in circles, we have some excellent resources you can circle back to. Below you will find everything from safety tips to instructional videos.