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Port Orchard OKs two roundabouts for congested Tremont Street

In order to relieve the escalating traffic congestion on Tremont Street, the Port Orchard City Council on Tuesday night approved a plan to construct two roundabouts designed to reduce gridlock and keep traffic moving.

The move was made in spite of the preference of local police and fire officials, as well as half the people who made their voices heard at the meeting.

“They didn’t listen to the public and they didn’t listen to the public servants,” said Vance Vaught of Port Orchard.

By a 5-2 margin the council approved the option to place roundabouts at two locations along Tremont, declining to approve either additional traffic lights or a roundabout at one intersection and a signal at the other.

Cost estimates for the project hover around $15 million, more than double the price tag from when it was first proposed.

As the final budget is not certain, neither is there an indication of where the funding will come from.

Councilman Jim Colebank, who opposed the decision, requested a roll call vote. Council members Rob Putaansuu, Fred Chang, Carolyn Powers, Fred Olin and John Clauson supported the motion.

Colebank was joined in his dissent by Jerry Childs.

Chang introduced a letter from Washington State Traffic Design and Operations Manager Brian Walsh, who said roundabouts saved fuel, and that opposition to a local roundabout was not based on an open-minded discussion.

Childs countered, saying that a self-professed “roundabout expert” might not be open to the idea that a roundabout might not work in a particular location.

While several representatives of South Kitsap Fire and Rescue were present to voice their opinions, the idea that the Port Orchard Police Departement is firmly opposed to a roundabout is something of an overstatement. Police Chief Al Townsend said Wednesday said he did not have an absolute objection to the roundabout, only that “it needs to be done correctly.”

Townsend added that it may be necessary to install a third roundabout at Sidney and Tremont “in order to keep traffic moving.”

The fire department officials were more definitive, with three firefighters attending the meeting to underscore how roundabouts can delay emergency vehicles long enough to make a life-or-death difference.

Colebank said the most important opinions on the subject are from those who live on Tremont and will be directly affected by the expansion. Many of these are senior citizens who depend upon quick response times from emergency vehicles.

The idea of a dual roundabout was the most popular option going into the meeting, and proponents seemed shocked by the overwhelmingly negative reactions.

“The decision for the roundabouts was made before the fire chief and the police chief made their recommendations,” Colebank said. “It was made before the public’s testimony, and I don't think the road on to the future is roundabouts. I think it is traffic signals.”

Aside from Mayor Lary Coppola, the property owner most affected by the roundabout is Dr. Brian Willyard, a chiropractor whose office borders the proposed site. In fact, the presence of Willyard’s office has been given as the reason for moving the roundabout north.

Willyard, who built his office three years ago, said the city should have alerted him of its plans to construct a roundabout when he first applied for his permits.

“Had I been aware of the plan to build a roundabout in this location, I ever would have put my building in that location,” Willyard said. “The city approved my permits.

“I am willing to work with the city to solve this problem,” Willyard said. “But it seemed that the people who voted for the roundabout had already made up their minds and did not take the discussion into consideration.”

Willyard said the city has not contacted him about the matter during the process. He said the previous administration was more more proactive about his concerns.

Willyard’s contention was supported by the results of an informal poll taken by South Kitsap resident Andrew Higgins, who surveyed 22 of his neighbors. All but four favored a traffic signal solution.

Chang acknowledged the criticism, but noted that “the needs of the many sometime outweigh the needs of the few.”

Childs also said his reason to vote against the proposal resulted from the fire and police recommendations.

Several South Kitsap Fire district employees testified against the roundabout choice, but were more sanguine about the decision than either the public testifying or the opposing counsel members.

“If we are given a choice between a roundabout and an intersection, we will always prefer an intersection,” firefighter Leif Anderson said. “But a decision was made, and we’ll deal with it.”

SKFD Deputy Chief Dan Olson said studies have found that roundabouts increase response time from five to 10 seconds in the best situations, and longer when traffic is heavy.

“The city council has the responsibility of making a decision after hearing all recommendations,” Olson said. “Our role is to respect that decision. We hope we will have a seat at the table during the decision-making process, so we can voice our concerns and help to develop the safest possible solution. We look forward to working with the city council to represent our best interests, any way we can.”

Olson said the fire district is always working to shorten response times, and would continue to run such exercises after the roundabouts are constructed.

While the decision has been made, the work has just begun. Port Orchard Public Works Director Mark Dorsey said he expected a long public approval process, during which all residents would get to have their say about how the expansion should proceed.

Among the issues up for discussion is how pedestrians would cross the intersection safely, a concern voiced by several local citizens at the meeting. This will be addressed as part of the design process, but Dorsey said four crosswalks will be located outside of the roundabout so motorists only have to concentrate on one thing a a time.

Even if the traffic is expected to be heavy, Dorsey feels a solution is possible that will be acceptable to all.

“These will be state-of-the-art crosswalks,” Dorsey said. “We will make sure they are safe.”

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