A proposed roundabout that will take the place of a busy intersection in La Crosse is raising some concerns.
The fire department said it can see the benefits to roundabouts, but when it comes to responding to emergencies, roundabouts could complicate things.
When the alarm sounds in the La Crosse Fire Department, the time it takes for firefighters to respond to emergencies is everything.
“We do shoot for that three-to-four minute response times at all times,” said Craig Snyder, division chief of the La Crosse Fire Department. “It is an important issue for us.”
The intersection at 7th and Cass streets in La Crosse is one of the main ways the fire department uses to get to the north side, but the Wisconsin Department of Transportation may soon turn this intersection into a roundabout.
The proposed roundabout is part of a larger construction project spanning roughly four blocks of Cass street.
The Joe Gregas from the Wisconsin DOT said officials considered two alternatives to fixing the intersection. One where the roads are widened a bit, but the intersection would still stay a signaled intersection.
The other is a roundabout.
Gregas said a roundabout would help ease the traffic and would be safer for both cars and pedestrians than the intersection that exists now.
“You're not seeing T-bone accidents where people are killed and that's huge,” said Gregas. “There might be a few more fender benders, but you can fix a car, but you're not going to be able to bring someone back after they just got killed in an accident.”
Synder said maneuvering big fire trucks through a roundabout could cause some problems.
The fire trucks are also equipped with sensors that can change the street lights green, allowing for firefighters to get to an emergency as fast as possible.
“It's extremely helpful,” said Snyder. “It prevents that intersection from congesting for us. When we're coming up there, it allows the drivers time and space to move off to the side so we can safely get through.”
Changing the intersection into a roundabout would get rid of the lights, but Gregas says traffic shouldn't be a problem.
“All of our modeling has shown that there's not going to be a backing up of vehicles,” said Gregas. “It will be a smooth movement even during peak hours of traffic like during rush hour.”
The project hasn't been approved yet, but if it does, the fire department will do its best to make the changes work.
“It's going to change some things up for us, so there'll be some training for us as well, but if it goes in we'll work with it,” said Snyder.
The fire department is working on gathering data and information about the safety and efficiency of roundabouts before presenting it to the public works board at its next meeting in two weeks.
The project would also remove four residential and two commercial properties in the area.
If the project gets the final approval, construction will take place around 2015.
Total cost for reconstruction on Cass street is roughly $1.6 million.