Starting Monday morning, drivers will begin using the first roundabout that the city of Raleigh has built outside the Beltline.
The roundabout at Buck Jones and Farm Gate roads is one of two the city is building as part of an overhaul of Buck Jones from near Jones Franklin Road to the bridge over Interstate 40. The other roundabout will be at the intersection with Bashford Road.
Until now, the city’s roundabout building has been limited to Hillsborough Street and Pullen Drive near N.C. State University, where four were completed several years ago and three more are under construction. But city engineers say roundabouts will become more common around town as people see how easy they are to use and how they make some tricky intersections easier to navigate.
“On the projects where we installed roundabouts, some people doubted them,” said Chris Johnson, the city’s road design and construction manager. “As time goes on, the public support is growing. We will see more and more of these being installed over the next decade or two.”
The initial plans for rebuilding Buck Jones Road did not include roundabouts. The city wanted to widen the road to accommodate a center turn lane and bike lanes and to add sidewalks and safer bus stops and pedestrian crossings.
None of the intersections along the road is busy enough to justify a traffic light. But traffic can get backed up at Bashford and Farm Gate roads, as drivers attempt to make left turns. As city engineers prepared to present their plans at a public meeting two years ago, they decided to provide alternate versions that showed roundabouts at the two side roads, Johnson said.
“Across the board, everybody liked the alternative with the roundabouts,” he said.
Roundabouts eliminate left turns, allowing drivers to get on or off Buck Jones Road by turning right. They will also slow down traffic on Buck Jones even while keeping it moving.
“There will be a steady flow of traffic, but it will reduce the chance of people speeding,” Johnson said, adding, “They’re so much safer than traffic signals. They’re more aesthetically pleasing. They give a community a sense of place.”
There are actually about three dozen roundabouts on public streets in Raleigh. Most of those were built by developers inside subdivisions such as Brier Creek and Falls River.
The first roundabouts the city built, in 2010, were not an instant success. The main one at Hillsborough Street and Pullen Drive, in front of N.C. State University’s Bell Tower, initially carried two lanes around the circle and confused many drivers. After police logged more than 100 crashes there in the first 20 months, the city reduced the twin rings of traffic to one, making the operation simpler. The number of crashes declined significantly.
The Buck Jones Road widening is expected to be finished by next summer. It will cost about $8.1 million, with about half of the money coming from a road bond that voters approved in 2013.