Roundabout safety issues debated

Two years after the initial decision, the Port Orchard City Council is still debating whether to install two-lane roundabouts at a pair of major intersections along Tremont Avenue, the perceived gateway to the city.

The council discussed the issue Tuesday night and placed it as the top item for its April 15 study session to consider information gathered from emergency response officials who worry the roundabouts could impede emergency vehicles and create potentially dangerous situations for pedestrians.

Public Works Director Maher Abed said changing the two roundabouts, planned at Pottery Avenue and South Kitsap Boulevard, would cost the city an additional $330,000 from redesign to final construction.

Port Orchard Police Chief Al Townsend and South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Wayne Senter addressed the council regarding their concerns at the Feb. 26 council meeting.

Townsend expressed his belief that if the council chooses to go with a roundabout, it should also take a close look at his safety concerns.

“Roundabouts are a great thing to fix a problem location — the one at Bethel (Avenue) was a great example,” Townsend said. “I guess you have to weigh, ‘Do we have a problem at Tremont that the roundabouts will fix?’ and that’s a decision you have to make.”

Senter’s opposition was stronger, and included videos he found online of drivers misusing roundabouts. One showed a street-racer skidding sideways around the roundabout several times, and another showed a traffic-clogged, four-lane roundabout in Dubai.

Councilman John Clauson brought up the topic at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, criticizing those who compare this project to the roundabouts in Gig Harbor, calling Senter’s presentation extreme.

“It troubles me when people keep refering to Gig Harbor as an example,” he said. “I don’t think anyone in this room thinks that the design in Gig Harbor was correct.”

Councilman Fred Chang agreed, dismissing Senter’s presentation.

“Wayne Senter’s (presentation) was overly exaggerated,” he said. “I thought that was completely unnecessary.”

Clauson wants to consider redesigning the roundabout plans as they are with regard to Townsend and Senter’s concerns, but felt switching to signalized intersections would mount an immediate and annual cost. He argued that the city council already researched roundabouts and made a decision.

“The decision was made two years ago,” he said, encouraging the councilmembers to continue with the project unless the need for a change was clearer.

“The price of property is not going to get any cheaper,” Clauson said. “If we’ve got funding now, we’ve got to keep the project moving.”

Councilmen Jim Colebank and Jerry Childs were in favor of looking at the emergency response concerns.

“The information that Chief Senter gave was clear to me in a different way than what John heard,” Colebank said, noting that the discussion was not on the agenda, and he wanted time to think about the topic.

He encouraged the council schedule a study session.

Mayor Lary Coppola has been in favor of discussing this issue further from the outset.

“I’m a firm believe that this decision was made without all the information needed to make the right decision at the time,” he said. “I think whether a roundabout is the right decision is yet to be seen.”

Coppola has been cautious to make a distinction between the public safety aspects of the discussion and his own property on Tremont, which sits on the corner of Pottery, where one roundabout is planned.

He admitted that his property will be affected more than any other with this project, regardless of the council’s decision.

He said his property will lose the same amount of square-footage with a roundabout or a signalized intersection — noting that the shape of the property loss will be a little different with each.

He has hired a lawyer to handle the property acquisition with the city and is recusing himself from that aspect of the project.

He said he hopes to eventually redevelop the property, and noted that he has been waiting three years for the city to determine what property it will need for the Tremont Corridor construction, saying, “Otherwise I would probably have it redeveloped now.”

Abed said he would bring more information about roundabouts and signalized sections to the April 15 study session.

The Port Orchard City Council meets every third Tuesday for a study session in the council chambers at City Hall at 7 p.m.

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