Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Getting to know the Wapato Way roundabout - Part I

By Lizzy Buechel

You may think you know the Wapato Way roundabout in Fife, but do you ‘know know’ the Wapato Way roundabout?

With two years of use under its belt, the Wapato Way roundabout connecting State Route 99 to the new Wapato Way East Bridge over Interstate 5 has become a familiar intersection for frequent travelers through Fife. But sometimes people need to know a little more about something to truly understand it. So we’re launching a three-part blog series to re-introduce the Wapato Way roundabout and answer some of the most common questions we hear from the community.

Part I: Don’t stop me now: Why a roundabout instead of a traffic signal?

Part II: It likes big trucks, and it cannot lie: Is a roundabout safe for trucks?

Part III: It spins me right round baby, right round: How do I use a roundabout?

Check back next Tuesday for the latest installment.

Part I: Don’t stop me now: Why a roundabout instead of a traffic signal?

Allow us to re-introduce you to the Wapato Way roundabout:

Did you know that although the Wapato Way roundabout opened in June 2021, the process to make sure it was a good fit for the intersection and community started several years earlier?

It’s true! Before building the Wapato Way roundabout, we listened to the needs of our partners and the community. What we heard was a need for the intersection to safely accommodate all modes of transportation, including not only the large trucks that would use it frequently, but also people who drive personal vehicles, walk and bike through the area. We also heard that people didn’t want to be stopped for long periods of time, that traffic needed to be slower for safety and a need to keep construction costs low.

Our traffic engineers did a thorough study and analysis of different options for the intersection, looking at both traffic signals and roundabouts. The experts analyzed land use and environmental factors like how increasing development may change the area and traffic in the future, and whether building the intersection could harm the natural environment or the community.

We also conducted operational and safety performance evaluations comparing different intersection options. We considered which design would perform best, both today and in the future. Taking all these factors into account, the roundabout option rose to the top, outperforming all traffic signal options in safety, traffic flow, and operational costs.

Speaking of which, did you know that in general, roundabouts are safer, faster, and more cost-effective than other intersection types like a traffic light? How? I’m glad you asked:

Safety benefits

  • Gentle curves in the roads entering roundabouts and one-way travel reduce the possibility for serious collisions like “T-bone” and head-on crashes that can happen at other 3 or 4-way intersections.
  • Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Federal Highway Administration have shown that roundabouts typically achieve a 90 percent reduction in fatal collisions, and a 75 percent reduction in collisions causing injuries.

Wait-time benefits

  • Roundabouts can accommodate more traffic than typical intersections, in part by promoting a continuous flow of traffic where drivers don’t need to stop, only yield.
  • The Federal Highway Administration has found that roundabouts can increase traffic capacity by 30 to 50 percent compared to traditional intersections. This helps prevent long traffic backups, especially in areas with lots of large trucks or other oversized vehicles, which tend to take longer to make a hard turn at a four-way stop.

Maintenance and Operations benefits

  • Although the cost to build a roundabout versus a traffic signal is about the same, roundabouts are cheaper in the long run, eliminating thousands of taxpayer dollars in yearly maintenance costs.
  • Roundabouts eliminate the hardware, maintenance, and electrical costs associated with traffic signals, which can add up to a savings of $5,000–$10,000 per year.

These benefits help contribute to growing popularity of roundabouts in road design and traffic maintenance, both in our state and across the nation. In Washington state alone, we have around 500 roundabouts throughout the roadway system.  So to recap - Wapato Way: safe, efficient, AND fiscally responsible. Sounds like the kind of intersection your parent would approve of.

For more tips and tricks on how to safely share the roundabout with large vehicles and trucks, stay tuned for Part II of this series, coming next week! 

And if you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of the Wapato Way roundabout, and why we are installing roundabouts on the SR 167 Completion project, check out this roundabout fact sheet, which explains each factor in more detail.