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Sharpes Corner roundabout favored

Sharpes Corner is slated for reconstructive surgery and many residents would like to see the congested intersection a little more “well-rounded.”

The state Department of Transportation spent two months soliciting input on six separate designs for a future construction project at Sharpes Corner that would help with safety as well as congestion at the historically accident-plagued intersection. The roundabout option emerged as the most popular.

“We’ve been trying to get the pulse of the communities on that location,” said Dave Chesson, DOT spokesman.

Hundreds of Whidbey Islanders navigate the corner every day on their west to Anacortes or east to Burlington and Mount Vernon.

A November open house held in Anacortes attracted approximately 200 people interested in perusing the options. Of the 150 questionnaires distributed, Chesson said more than 100 were returned. During the 60-day comment period that ended Jan. 4, stakeholders were also able to post comments on DOT’s Web site.

“We got a lot of comments overall,” the spokesman said. “The survey was not scientific, obviously, but it helped narrow the choices. Most people chose the roundabout over the other options.”

The two-lane roundabout design, which garnered 35 percent of the votes, was the most popular and the least expensive, carrying with it an estimated price tag of $11 million to $13 million. The west-to-south flyover ramp design was second with 21 percent of the votes, but would cost $34 million to $40 million, well over the current $22 million budget.

The numbers, however, were conflicting when it came to gauging actual community support.

When those surveyed were asked if they would support the roundabout, 41 percent said yes and 39 percent said no. And, when asked if they would support the west-to-south flyover ramp, 39 percent said yes and 32 percent said no.

“We aren’t surprised by the near tie when people are asked only if they would support the roundabout,” Chesson said. “In fact, research has shown the number of people that favor roundabouts more than doubles after a roundabout is built. Drivers typically prefer traffic signals and stop signs until they realize roundabouts allow them to get through the intersection safely and without having to stop.”

Similar results were tallied from the nearly 70 emails that WSDOT received: 35 percent supported the roundabout, while the eastbound flyover came in second with 12 percent of the vote.

Later this month, WSDOT will assemble a group of engineering experts and local officials involved in transportation planning to scrutinize the intersection designs. The study should help the agency pick the best option for the intersection as well as offer ways to reduce costs, enhance safety, and reduce impacts on local communities and the environment. The comments received from the public will be incorporated into the value engineering study.

“The comments we received from the public will be a valuable tool during the value engineering study to make sure we make the right choices,” Chesson said, adding that the chosen option will need to do its job for a minimum of 20 years.

The project is scheduled for construction in 2012.

“We hope to have an idea of which option we’re choosing in February,” Chesson said.

While the formal comment period has closed, WSDOT will continue to accept comments throughout the duration of the project. Visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/sr20/sharpescornerinterchange/ for more details, results from the open house survey and contact information.

Roundabouts have also been a hot topic in Oak Harbor, where a 2005 predesign study identified several intersections along Highway 20 that could be candidates, including Beeksma, Barrington, Swantown and Pioneer.

The study was jointly funded by the city and WSDOT. Steve Powers, Oak Harbor Development Services director, said the plans remain intact, but the state will be responsible for funding.

“It’s still the intended policy direction for future design of the highway,” Powers said. “It all depends on funding and when and how much you’re able to do at that particular time. There are a whole bunch of permutations.”

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