Officials from the Washington State Department of Transportation have their work cut out for them when they come to Oak Harbor on Wednesday.
They will likely be met by some concerned residents who are skeptical about plans to place roundabouts at Sharpes Corner and the intersection up the hill at Miller and Gibraltar roads. A lot of people are predicting that the traffic circles will confuse drivers and only make the problems worse at the busy State Highway 20 intersection in Skagit County.
The two intersections getting roundabouts are important for anyone traveling off the island at the north end. The state’s plan is to build a two-lane roundabout at Sharpes Corner and a single-lane roundabout at the Miller and Gibraltar roads intersection.
While change can be scary, in this case the concern isn’t justified. It may take some drivers a while to get used to the roundabouts, but navigating them isn’t all that difficult.
The benefits of roundabouts are numerous.
Studies show that they make intersections safer. Roundabouts reduce injury collisions by an average of 75 percent at intersections that previously had stop signs or traffic lights, the state Department of Transportation reports. Overall collisions are reduced by 37 percent and fatalities are reduced by 90 percent.
The reasons are low travel speeds, lack of lights to stall traffic and elimination of cross traffic that can lead to T-bone and head-on collisions.
Sharpes Corner averages 14 crashes a year. Two Oak Harbor teenagers were killed at the Miller and Gibraltar roads intersection in 2013. That intersection is indeed perilous for even the most seasoned drivers.
The roundabouts, though controversial now, will reduce delays and improve traffic flow, according to the Department of Transportation. They are also less expensive to build than traditional intersections.
Nevertheless, Whidbey Island drivers should consider attending the Department of Transportation’s workshop and should certainly pepper traffic engineers with plenty of questions. The open-house event is 5:30-7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 31 at North Whidbey Middle School.