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Proposed roundabout takes heat

Citing safety concerns, South Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Wayne Senter is asking the city of Port Orchard to reconsider its plan to build a roundabout at the intersection of Tremont Street and Pottery Avenue.

“You cannot control a roundabout (and allow emergency vehicles to move through),” Senter said at the last meeting of the SKFR board of commissioners, explaining that he detailed his concerns in a letter earlier this month to City Engineer Maher Abed. “The area is congested during commute times, and as currently proposed, (the roundabout) will delay emergency response unnecessarily.”

Senter said he wrote the letter after first sitting down with Abed to discuss his objections to the planned intersection, many of which stem from the fact that the proposed roundabout would be installed “a block and a half away” from SKFR’s Station 31 on Tremont.

“We make approximately 3,000 trips a year through that intersection, which has heavy traffic in the morning and afternoon,” Senter said, adding that the congestion is only exacerbated when alternative routes such as State Route 166 are closed at Ross Point, which occurred as recently as Dec. 3.

As an alternative, Senter suggested the city install an intersection with “Opticom” controls, which provide right-of-way to authorized vehicles like emergency responders.

“It even looked like that alternative may be designed to avoid any need to condemn surrounding property,” Senter added.

In addition to his concerns regarding a lack of a way to stop traffic and give a clear path to ambulances and fire trucks in a roundabout, Senter said he was uneasy about the two-lane design of the new intersections.

“One lane works very well,” Senter said, pointing to the existing one-lane roundabout at Bethel Road and Mile Hill Drive as an example of a good design that works well. “However, they have two-lane ones in Gig Harbor, and those are not working very well.”

Senter acknowledged that the decision of which type of intersection to build is ultimately up to the City Council, but he hoped that Abed and his staff would consider revamping their design.

“Due to my 29 years of professional service, I believe I have a pretty good professional opinion,” Senter said.

While the Tremont Expansion Project includes a second proposed roundabout at Tremont and Kitsap Boulevard, Senter said that change “does not seem to create the same level of concern and we support that part of the expansion project.”

Construction on the project is set to begin in 2009 and will include expanding Tremont Street to two lanes in each direction, installing a landscaped median from SR-16 to the intersection at Roland, bike lanes and the two roundabouts.

Abed confirmed he met with Senter and discussed his concerns regarding a roundabout so close to the fire station.

“Certainly, from my perspective as a city engineer, I want to do as much as possible to make sure we have a safe corridor,” he said. “We opened a dialogue to address his concerns, and we want to work together to see if we can develop solutions.”

As an example, Abed pointed to the city of Lacey, which he said built a similar roundabout and instituted the “rules of the road” for situations when emergency vehicles need to drive through the intersection.

“There are signs alerting people that if they hear sirens and are in the roundabout, they need to proceed through it before pulling over to the right,” he said, adding that the public needed to be educated when the Bethel roundabout was built, as well.

“Like everything else new, there is a period when you get people accustomed to it,” he said. “I still believe this is a viable option, and I’m still optimistic the concerns will be addressed.”

Abed said the current design has been approved and implemented, and the city is ready to begin the process of acquiring the right-of-way necessary to construct the roundabouts.

“We are proceeding now as if that is still the plan,” he said.

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