Indiana, PA - Indiana County

PennDOT weighs roundabout for juncture east of Indiana

by CHAUNCEY ROSS chauncey@indianagazette.net on August 16, 2013 11:00 AM

OK, Indiana, get ready for a taste of Ireland.

Or New Jersey, depending on the extent of your out-of-state driving experience.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is considering construction of a roundabout for traffic at the intersection of Philadelphia Street and East Pike, just across the Indiana boundary in White Township.

Unfamiliar with the concept? A roundabout consists of a road forming a loop, with traffic from three or more roads feeding into it.

There are no stop signs and no red lights to govern traffic, and there are no left turns, although there’s a constant “bearing left” as traffic flows one way, counterclockwise, in the roundabout.

By their very nature, roundabouts reduce the speed of traffic approaching and traveling around them. But on average, drivers will spend less time getting through because they all have equal standing — in other words, all depend on each other to take turns entering and exiting the circle.

“The intent is to get cars and trucks and buses through the intersection more efficiently,” said Dave Layman, a project manager at PennDOT. “There is no more queuing in a roundabout. They are all free-flowing movements, counterclockwise, all making right-hand merge movements.

“The number of conflicting points is reduced in a roundabout.”

Roundabouts aren’t common in Pennsylvania, mainly because of the topography. They work best on flat areas, like that of the juncture of Philadelphia Street and East Pike.

And Layman said the kind being considered for White Township is distinctly different from the traffic patterns found in central Ligonier and Gettysburg.

Those have a tighter radius and use stop signs to regulate traffic — and although they involve what one might call the town square, the configuration is called a traffic circle, Layman said.

Already there has been talk of the plan in some circles in the Indiana area. Project stakeholders have met with PennDOT to discuss how the project should look.

It’s PennDOT’s way of reaching what Layman calls context-sensitive solutions, by considering aesthetics and plantings in addition to concrete and painted lines.

For example, the Indiana Garden Club has an interest because of the flower bed the club now maintains at the intersection. Plantings could be considered in the island in the roundabout.

The Welcome to Indiana group has a big sign posted at the east end of Philadelphia Street to greet folks coming into town from Routes 286 and 119. The sign possibly could be relocated into the island.

And this past week, Barbara Hague of the Livable Indiana Neighborhood Connections presented diagrams of the proposed roundabout at the Indiana Area School District board meeting, asking the directors to formally support the plan by resolution.

School officials talked about the extension of paved sidewalks from the borough to East Pike Elementary School, with the possibility of a pedestrian and bicycle underpass to separate walkers and bikers from drivers at the intersection.

PennDOT could entertain formal discussion as early as January, and a roundabout could become reality in the 2016 construction season.

“We have right-of-way to buy, some utilities to move and maintenance agreements to sign,” Layman said. “We’re not in final design yet. It’s the very early stages, and we do look for two to 2 1/2 years to go through all the design work for the project.

“We plan to have two, if not three public plans displays. Once we are comfortable with designs and having the bikes and pedestrians and trails interests are on board, we will present the project to the public, we will have a more definitive schedule and timeline.”

Depending on land, utility and other issues, the cost for the project could be between $1 million and $3 million, Layman said.

“There have been a lot of studies done, and roundabouts are improvements. They do provide a more efficient intersection,” Layman said. “So it is something new and hot in Pennsylvania. We look for certain intersections that qualify for an upgrade, but the issues we have had in our region is that the topography excludes them.

“But here we have a relatively flat area, with similar traffic volumes for the intersecting legs, and a lot of interest from local stakeholders.”

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