The line of cars on Smith Valley Road will extend back a half-mile or more as motorists wait to get through three busy intersections in a row.
Everyday, about 30,000 vehicles pass through the intersections of Smith Valley Road with Meridian Street, Madison Avenue and U.S. 31. And commuters know to expect traffic backups, especially during rush hour.
Greenwood city officials have been planning a roundabout to help with traffic flow, which is set to be complete in 2018. But as plans progressed, they realized the size of the project would have to grow in order to fully alleviate congestion.
Because of the short distance between Madison Avenue and U.S. 31, cars waiting to turn left could back up traffic into the roundabout, said Jay Vorisek, project development director for Crossroad Engineers.
Now, the overall scope of the roundabout plans have grown beyond the intersection of Madison Avenue and Smith Valley Road.
The changes are meant to fix the traffic problems that plague the area, but will also change the way you drive through those intersections.
The biggest change: lefthand turns onto U.S. 31 from either direction of Smith Valley Road will no longer be allowed, Vorisek said.
Engineers added a “jug handle” turnaround lane to the project, similar to an interstate on-ramp, city engineer Mark Richards said. Motorists will cross U.S. 31 along Smith Valley Road and then turn right, looping back around and merging into the northbound lanes of U.S. 31. The “jug handle” loop will wrap around the Greenwood Community High School Marching Band sign and won’t affect the shrub landscaping that spells out Greenwood, Richards said.
For motorists who would usually turn left onto U.S. 31 from Smith Valley Road, they’ll instead take the roundabout and head south on Madison Avenue, where a stoplight near Mercator Drive will take them to U.S. 31.
Taking away left turns onto U.S. 31 allows east and westbound traffic on Smith Valley Road to move more fluidly through and away from the roundabout, Vorisek said.
The change added about $160,000 to the design costs of the project, Richards said.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $3.4 million, Richards said. About $2.4 million of that total will be paid for with federal and state grants as part of a congestion relief and air quality program by the Federal Highway Administration, Richards said. The remaining balance will be paid for by the Greenwood Redevelopment Commission because the project is located in a tax-increment, or TIF, district.
“I think this project is outstanding. This is 25 years overdue,” redevelopment commission president Brent Tilson said. “The improvements bring a level of expertise necessary to think about how traffic moves, the timing, delays and patterns based on different times (of the day). It’s great to see the improvements added to the roundabout.”
The stoplights at Meridian Street and U.S. 31 will have censors that will count the traffic flow and change the signals if cars begin to back up toward the intersection, said Trent Newport, of Crossroad Engineers.
Engineers estimated that the total amount of time each car sits in traffic every day during rush hour would add up to 204 hours, Richards said. The new and improved roundabout plans will reduce that time by 94 hours, Richards said.
Crosswalks also will be built around the roundabout at each intersection, across U.S. 31 and the “jug handle” loop, adding to the connectivity and walkability Greenwood wants, Richards said. Sidewalks will also be installed in certain areas of the project, Richards said.
“This is a good project. The added benefit is it will make it easier to get around Greenwood,” Richards said.
The project also will help with traffic in the future, officials said.
All of the vehicle counts and estimates were based on increased traffic in the coming years when Interstate 69 comes to the west side of Greenwood along State Road 37, carrying more cars to and through the city, Newport said.