We understand they are not popular, but a roundabout is the safest option
From what we have observed, either from submitted letters to our newspaper or from public forums held by local leaders, roundabouts are not a popular idea for this community.
People have dealt with them in Bend by the dozen and likely other communities that have turned to this relatively new traffic control device. And they don't like them and don't want to see them in Prineville.
Yet, a roundabout is coming. For several years, local leaders have teamed up with Oregon Department of Transportation to develop a safer alternative to the Tom McCall Road/Highway 126 intersection.
For years, this portion of highway didn't include a change in speed and cross traffic was relatively minimal. That of course changed when new businesses began to fill up the Baldwin Industrial Park on the south side of the highway. Then came the Apple and Facebook data centers, and these days, those trying to turn onto the highway from the north side of the Tom McCall intersection struggle to get out amidst other traffic during the beginning and end of the workday. Frustrated drivers have posted photos on Facebook, sitting behind a line of more than a dozen cars, waiting for an opening.
For this reason, ODOT lowered the speed limit in the area to 45 miles per hour and now plan to work with the city and county government to install a roundabout. And while we understand people's disdain for such a traffic control device, we think they should give the idea a chance.
The roundabout is intended to slow down highway traffic while allowing drivers to turn onto the highway more frequently and keep vehicles moving. Local officials argue that a roundabout will do this more safely than a turn signal, because highway drivers would try to hurry through the intersection as the light changes to yellow then red, making accident more likely, and more serious due to the higher speeds. Also, with a roundabout, accidents could still happen, but they would be side-swipes rather than more dangerous T-bone collisions.
The other concern frequently raised is how a roundabout will affect truck drivers. The ones in Bend are notoriously difficult to navigate, so wouldn't a roundabout on a highway be a disaster? We certainly understand the concern, and so do ODOT and local government officials. ODOT has met continually with members of the freight industry in hopes of developing a roundabout that won't impede truck traffic. In addition, they teamed up with local leaders to host a roundabout rodeo this past summer, where truck drivers were invited to try out a mock version of the roundabout, featuring the same dimensions of the one proposed in Prineville. While some drivers encountered some issues, most found that they could pass through the roundabout without much difficulty. Whatever problems drivers did identify with the design have been factored into the ever-changing design of the roundabout.
So while we understand the initial resistance to installing a roundabout on a local highway, we think people should give it a chance and keep an open dialogue with local leaders and ODOT as they work together to design the best one possible. Hopefully, at the end of the day, we end up with a safer and more efficient way to move traffic in a continually growing area.