It will be functional at 51st and Drexel Tuesday as students head back to Franklin High School. Will things operate smoothly or will it be a hot mess?
Here’s a review of how we got here.
The Franklin Common Council voted 3-3 at its April 17, 2018 meeting to approve financing the design of a roundabout at 51st and Drexel just north of Franklin High School.
Aldermen Steve Taylor, Kristen Wilhelm and Mark Dandrea voted YES. Aldermen Dan Mayer, Mike Barber, and John Nelson voted NO.
Mayor Steve Olson then broke the tie by voting in favor.
The city will now spend $89,933.78 to have the firm R.A. Smith design a one-lane roundabout at the intersection.
The resolution presented to the council at the meeting noted that 51st and Drexel is a heavily congested intersection in Franklin. The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) in its analysis of the intersection determined that a single lane roundabout design is the most appropriate solution for that location.
Prior to the vote some residents spoke in opposition.
One woman said during the citizen comment period the proposed roundabout was “too close to the high school and fire station.” She asked other residents to attend the meeting to speak out they told her it wouldn’t do any good.
“They don’t listen to us, they already have their minds made up,” she was told.
Another woman voiced concern that accidents would increase at the intersection because of a roundabout.
Mayor Olson said the issue boiled down to leadership.
“You make your decision based on what’s best for the community in the long term.”
Aware that motorists may not know how to maneuver the roundabout, including senior citizens (Claire Meadows Senior Apartments is right down the street on 51st), Olson noted that he recently traveled to Rome, drove through a roundabout there, and he was “just fine.”
Olson continued with a poorly-thought out statement.
“Seniors complain they don’t like roundabouts. Well, how much longer are they going to drive? I’m sorry. It’s a plain fact,” said Olson.
Alderman Steve Taylor argued doing nothing is not an option and that motorists would be able to handle the roundabout.
“I think the residents of Franklin are pretty smart,” said Taylor.
Now that the design services have been approved the issue is just a formality. Next will be the actual construction that is planned to begin after the last day of school for the 2018-19 school year (June 7, 2019) with the project set for completion prior to the start of school that fall (mid-August 2019).
MORE FROM APRIL 2018
I asked Franklin Police Chief Rick Oliva to supply me with data about serious accidents that have occurred at the intersection dating back the past ten years. The chief responded quickly via e-mail.
“We can’t search specifically for the intersection. We have to search the hundred blocks east-west and north-south of the intersection.”
Chief Oliva continued.
“In the last 10 years there was one personal injury accident in the 5000 block of W. Drexel. There were 6 property damage only accidents in the hundred blocks E-W and N-S. Since you’re looking for serious accidents, it would only be the one.”I
In August of 2017 the Wisconsin State Journal reported the following that like Oliva’s information blows holes in the contentions of the pro-roundabout crowd:
A study of 30 roundabouts in the state completed by (Andrea) Bill, (a traffic safety engineer at the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory at UW-Madison) in 2013 that looked at crashes three years before and four years after they opened showed that 23 had more crashes after they opened.
Overall, there were 572 crashes four years after the 30 roundabouts opened versus 311 during the three years before the intersections were converted. Of those, 464 crashes resulting in property damage occurred after the roundabouts opened versus 194 before they opened. Both periods saw similar numbers of accidents with injuries.
Bill was also quoted that she thinks, she thinks there will be fewer crashes. And that could be. But it hasn’t happened. Au contraire, just the opposite has taken place with roundabouts.
More information was shared about the planned roundabout at 51st and Drexel at the January 8, 2019 meeting of the Franklin Common Council. Brad Severson spoke to the Council. He’s from R.A. Smith, the engineering consultant for the roundabout design.
Severson said the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) conducted a study in 2017 of the 51st and Drexel intersection. The study looked at the five year period from 2011-2015.
During that time there were 19 crashes in the intersection. That equates to .7 crash per every one million vehicles entering the intersection. Clearly that raises the very legitimate question of whether a roundabout is even necessary.
“That’s not a huge safety issue,” said Severson, but “it’s one certainly worth looking at.”
Half of the crashes were T-bones according to Severson who said that’s unusual at a 4-way stop.
According to documentation on the city of Franklin website the design project is, not surprisingly, over budget. There is a 60% project estimate that reflects a construction total of $1,034,000. A previous construction estimate was $825,000. Not included in the higher estimate are land acquisition costs that are unknown at this time. Land from all four corners of the intersection must still be acquired.
Severson said reasons for the increased cost include the SEWRPC study is about two years old and the design has to consider the accommodation of larger vehicles.
Listening to the tape of the meeting one doesn’t get the feeling that there’s a sense of urgency about the cost issue. Franklin’s approved 2019 Capital Improvement Fund includes $1-million for the roundabout project.
If Franklin did nothing at the intersection and simply left it a 4-way stop, Severson told the Council an average delay for a vehicle, from the time it was stopped in line to it finally leaving the intersection would be, on average, 5 ½ minutes which includes the time frame when Franklin High School lets out.
The project is behind schedule. It’s thought the 90% plans will be ready this March and that the bidding process to receive bids will begin this May.
The council voted to direct city staff to begin the land acquisition and bidding processes and also study why costs are higher.