More than 13,000 vehicles creep slowly through one of Greenwood’s busiest intersections every day during the morning and evening rush hours, and the city hopes to make traffic move a bit faster.
Motorists who drive through the intersection of Madison Avenue and Smith Valley Road know they typically will have to wait through multiple red lights to get to U.S. 31 because of backed-up vehicles, some of them stuck in the middle of the intersection after failed attempts at left turns.
Greenwood plans to fix the traffic flow with a roundabout, which would keep traffic moving despite vehicles going in multiple directions, including to and from Meridian Street and U.S. 31, community development services director Mark Richards said.
That roundabout is one of six planned for the city over the next six years. Greenwood’s vision is to clear traffic snarls at busy intersections by replacing stoplights and stop signs with roundabouts.
The circular intersections keep vehicles moving instead of stopping and going at stoplights and stop signs. Also, when accidents happen, they usually are minor fender benders rather than T-bone or head-on collisions.
The city currently has funding to build roundabouts at Main Street and Averitt Road, Smith Valley and Yorktown roads and at Worthsville and Sheek roads. But it needs more than $3 million to pay for roundabouts at Madison Avenue and Smith Valley Road and Stones Crossing and Honey Creek roads. Officials don’t have cost estimates for one planned at Worthsville and Averitt roads.
The county built three roundabouts in the past five years in the Center Grove area — at Morgantown and Fairview roads, County Road 144 and Whiteland Road, and Morgantown and Whiteland roads.
Fewer accidents have been recorded at the Fairview Road and Morgantown Road roundabout, and drivers tend to slow down for roundabouts instead of ignoring stop signs.
In Franklin, a roundabout is scheduled to be built starting in April. It will redirect traffic where Main, Walnut and Clark streets and Oliver Avenue intersect. The roundabout will make the complex intersection safer because it will force traffic to move in only one direction, instead of five, Franklin city engineer Travis Underhill said.
“Traffic signals, those types of solutions don’t work as well or aren’t as safe as a roundabout,” he said.
Whiteland has a long-term plan to construct a roundabout at Whiteland and Graham roads.
Traffic engineers have studied the six Greenwood intersections and concluded roundabouts would be the best option for easing congestion that commuters complain about, such as Madison Avenue and Smith Valley Road, or will get due to heavy traffic when a new Interstate 65 exit opens, such as at Worthsville and Sheek roads.
Current and predicted traffic counts, crash numbers, the cost of maintenance and impact on the environment were among the factors considered when Greenwood looked at options for improving traffic flow through intersections.
The successful use of roundabouts in Avon, Beech Grove and Carmel to improve traffic flow and make intersections safer also influenced Greenwood, Richards said.
“We see that they work, and it’s something that we think would benefit people driving in Greenwood,” he said.
“Roundabouts have traffic-calming properties. You’re slowing down, but you’re not stopping and idling.”
Roundabouts cost more to build than other options, such as stoplights, but they’re less expensive to maintain and reduce pollution, he said.
For example, a traffic light the city is installing at Main Street and Graham Road costs $364,000, which includes design and construction, Richards said.
The roundabouts the city has planned range in estimated cost from $843,000 to $1.7 million for design, land acquisition and construction.
But they don’t cost anything extra to maintain, beyond plowing snow in the winter, since the city would have to resurface the road whether a stoplight were there or not, he said.
Environmental impacts are one of the considerations for some federal funding, so if a roundabout would reduce pollution, that could help the city get funding for redesigning an intersection over installing a traffic light, Richards said.
Since vehicles don’t stop in roundabouts, the circles are considered better for the environment because stopped, idling vehicles produce more pollutants through their exhaust pipes than if they just slowed down, he said.
“It’ll reduce congestion. It’ll reduce pollutants. It’ll reduce the more severe accidents,” Richards said. “You may rub fenders, but that’s a lot better than having to extract people from a vehicle with a severe injury.”