Roundabout engineers hired

Oak Harbor may not have to depend on the state Department of Transportations to get roundabouts in the city.

Eric Johnston, a civil engineer with the city, said engineers will be looking at the possibility of building the circular traffic devices at three different intersections — Oak Harbor Street and NE Seventh Avenue, Oak Harbor Street and Crosby Avenue, and Barrington Drive and Erie Street.

“We are looking at a number of alternatives for each intersection,” he said. “One is a roundabout.”

This isn’t the first time roundabouts have been considered. City staff and DOT engineers have also worked together on a study of Highway 20 within Oak Harbor, from Swantown Avenue to Cabot Street. The preliminary report in March suggested that roundabouts could cure traffic woes at a number of intersections along the highway.

The state, however, has no money budgeted to install roundabouts in Oak Harbor or do any of the work called for in the study.

But the city recently entered into a contract with the Everett-based firm Reid Middleton, Inc., to do engineering services for two large street projects. The company has a lot of expertise in building roundabouts, having designed more than 40 of them in the last nine years, according to their Web site,

The city is moving forward with building the missing link in Barrington Drive. The $1.1 million project will extend the road from behind Wal-Mart up the hill to where SW Barrington Drive currently dead-ends in a residential area.

Completion of the road has been in the city’s Comprehensive Plan for many years. The Regional Transportation Planning Organization awarded the city a $100,000 grant for the project in 1998; this year, the organization gave the city an additional $505,000 grant. The money comes from federal gas tax.

As a match, the city is spending $95,000 in traffic impact fees.

Johnston said the completion of the road will provide a crucial east-west link in the city, which should relieve some of the congestion on the highway.

As part of the design work, engineers will analyze whether it would make sense to build a roundabout behind Wal-Mart, at the intersection of Barrington Drive and Erie Street.

In addition, the city is planning a $2.48 million project to make Oak Harbor Street safer. The stretch of road has been prone to accidents, including many injury accidents, mainly because of the lack of left-turn lanes. The project, from Whidbey Avenue to Crosby Avenue, will include construction of bicycle lanes, turns lanes, curbs, gutters and sidewalks.

The city has a total of $1.68 million in state and federal grants for the project, including a $1.3 million grant from the state Transportation Improvement Board. The money comes from state gas tax. The city’s match is $800,000 from developer impact fees and the arterial fund.

Again, Johnston said engineers will consider a number of different options including roundabouts, signal lights, or simple changes in “channelization” for improving the intersections with NE Seventh and with Crosby Avenue.

Traffic engineers tend to love roundabouts, which are intersections with one-way circulation around a center island, eliminating the need for a traffic signal.

Johnston said they have many advantages over intersection with the traditional traffic signals. “Roundabouts are a lot cheaper,” he said, “they are safer, from what DOT tells us ... and they look better.”

The Department of Transportation also reports that roundabouts are more efficient than signalized intersections. They allow more cars to move through an intersection at any given time.

The biggest problem with roundabouts is public resistance; some drivers don’t like them or are scared of the idea.

And the public will have their say. Johnston said the city and the consultant will hold two meetings for each project this fall to gather public comment. Afterward, staff will make a recommendation to City Council, which will make the final decision on the roundabout issue.

Johnston said construction on the road projects will likely begin next fall.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or 675-6611.

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