Two state projects to build traffic circles on U.S. 1 in Flagler County are gaining moving ahead.
PALM COAST — Bulldozers rumble past construction cones and “Road Closed” signs that line the intersection at Matanzas Woods Parkway at U.S. 1 in Palm Coast.
It’s Friday and work crews are in the early stages of a $2.6-million Florida of Transportation Department project to build a traffic circle, or roundabout, at the busy intersection, which serves the northern residential corridor of Flagler County.
Meanwhile, 16 miles south, workers are putting the finishing touches on another roundabout, at the intersection of U.S. 1 at Old Dixie Highway. The “dangerous intersection” left local officials clamoring for a traffic light to be installed after five people were killed there in a February 2017 crash.
The two “circular intersections” showcase the DOT’s statewide commitment to the traffic control scheme. Officials began prioritizing them as preferred safety improvement options on state highways in 2015.
There are currently 20 roundabouts in operation on Florida’s state highway system, according to DOT. Another 300 exist on Florida’s local roadways.
State transportation officials contend roundabouts significantly decrease fatal crashes by 90%, crashes involving injuries by 75%, and crashes involving bicyclists and pedestrians by up to 40%.
The area’s only completed roundabout was installed in DeLand in February 2017 at State Road 44’s junction with Grand Avenue. The state ordered construction of that $2.1-million circular intersection just days after an April 2016 crash in which a DeLeon Springs woman and her three grandchildren were killed.
There are at least eight more roundabouts in the works for highways in Volusia and Flagler counties, according to the state transportation agency.
The state hired Daytona Beach contractor P&S Paving to build the $4-million roundabout at U.S. 1 and Old Dixie. Construction on that project began in December and is expected be completed by next spring.
Crews have completed the eye of the roundabout, its central island and the circular road surrounding it. They recently moved into phase four, the final stage of the project, during which they will complete the outer bypass lane on the southbound shoulder of U.S. 1.
The transportation department’s policy shift to roundabouts has met with much criticism in Flagler County. Local officials had clamored for state action after a pickup truck slammed into an SUV attempting to turn onto U.S. 1 from Old Dixie Highway on Feb. 5, 2017. All five South Florida passengers in the SUV were killed in what was one of the deadliest crashes ever at the intersection.
Sheriff Rick Staly wrote a letter to top DOT officials after the crash urging them to install traffic lights. Sheriff’s Office Chief Mark Strobridge said Friday that Staly still supports the idea of stop lights as a cheaper alternative, but will defer to DOT engineers.
“We feel like the state has the expertise in this area — traffic flow and traffic control at that intersection,” Strobridge said. “But as you well know, the sheriff tried to get traffic lights.”
Staly is not the only one who prefers stop lights. Mary Husch-Nobles, who runs a Bunnell bar called Scary Mary’s near the new roundabout, has been dead set against the idea since its inception. She circulated a petition to get traffic lights installed instead, which got nearly 300 signatures in 2017. But it was not enough to convince state officials to detour their plans.
“If you have to redirect traffic from (Interstate) 95, the only other thruway is U.S. 1,” she worried. “So here you go. You’re going to be like jam in a jelly jar.”
The White Eagle Lounge, a popular saloon that sits at the torn-up intersection, shut down in July. Husch-Nobles believes it’s because the roundabout’s construction zone encroached on half of the bar’s parking lot and drove customers away. She said she has spoken to residents, truck drivers and business owners in the area and all of them oppose the circular intersection there.
“Everybody’s pretty much on the same level,” she said. “It was a waste of a lot of time … It’s just a headache for everybody who tries to go through there and I just don’t understand it.”
P&S is also the contractor overseeing the Matanzas Woods Parkway project. Construction got underway in August and road closures began Oct. 28 as crews move into the project’s first phase of detours. That will require Matanzas Woods Parkway to remain fully closed for four months at the intersection, according to DOT’s plan.
Those plans include drainage improvements, street lighting, landscaping, and construction of sidewalks at the intersection. The roundabout will also feature crosswalks for pedestrians and bicyclists, DOT spokesman Steve Olsen said.
That project is expected to be completed by next summer.