Onalaska highway roundabouts appear to improve safety

Onalaska highway roundabouts appear...

ONALASKA, Wis. (WKBT) - Recent changes, including the addition of roundabouts and reduced speed, appear to be helping increase safety on State Trunk Highway 35 between Onalaska and Holmen.

Since 2010, there have been four fatal crashes and dozens of others involving injuries on Highway 35 between Onalaska and Holmen, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

According to DOT traffic safety engineer Brad Byom, the project completed last fall has performed as expected, or even better.

"The intersection prior to construction was an absolute nightmare,” Emily Vance said.

Vance owns River Trails Cycles just off of Highway 35 on Mason Street, and even though taking Highway 35 is her fastest route home, before the construction she used to go a different way, instead of turning on to the highway going south.

"You had to wait for the cars. Cars are flying by 60, 65 miles per hour, scary fast,” she said. “It was a severe hazard and safety risk."

With just a stop sign, Onalaska City Engineer Jarrod Holter said turning left on or off the highway was a struggle.

"The sight distance wasn't great coming over the hill. It has enough of a roll, making it problematic to turn left,” he said. “With the amount of traffic volume, they actually had quite a few accidents at the intersection, some with major injuries."

According to Byom, on the DOT's Highway 35 project site, there was an average of 10 injury crashes per year and an average of 0.6 fatal crash per year between 2011 and 2015.

In 2016 there was construction, which lowered the speed limit from 50 to 45 miles per hour, and brought two roundabouts to Highway 35, one at the intersection of Riders Club Road, and another at Mason Street.

Now in 2017, the DOT reports one injury crash and no fatal crashes so far this year.

"We just feel it's been a benefit for the city,” Holter said. “(With roundabouts), statistically, there's less major accidents, and it keeps traffic moving at all times."

"At first we questioned how it's going to work,” Vance said.

Although roundabouts have a learning curve, Vance said they’ve only made things run more smoothly.

“Now, it's like, ‘oh no big deal’ if I need to go south,” she said. “Roundabout you go.”

Vance said with the roundabout addition, people have better access to her business, and with the slower traffic, more people have been able to notice her shop as well.

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