Eight-member panel formed to poll public on controversial traffic circle

January 18, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Now that the State Highway Administration has decided to install an experimental traffic circle in Lisbon, it is looking to a citizen task force to take the community's pulse on the issue.

Eight people, from about 40 who applied, have been chosen to report on the community's reaction to the circle.

"I want to hear what they have to say before I make up my mind," said County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, who selected the group.

The "roundabout," as SHA calls it, has created a stir in Lisbon, where highway officials hope it will control traffic and prevent serious accidents at the intersection of Routes 94 and 144. Nearly 40 accidents occurred at the intersection during a five-year period ending in 1989.

"They've had simply too many accidents in that area, so something has to be done," Mr. Feaga said. "If we decide that isn't the way to go, then I will be pushing the state highway strongly to put a regular red and green light there."

Most residents at an October hearing appeared to be against the modernized version of the old traffic circle, asking instead for a full-cycle traffic light. It would replace the current light, which flashes red for motorists on Route 144 and yellow for those on Route 94.

SHA officials compromised by deciding to build a temporary roundabout made of inexpensive and easily replaceable asphalt curbing, said SHA spokeswoman Liz Kalinowski.

It will be built in March, as soon as weather permits. It will take about a week to build and will remain in place for six to eight weeks.

During that time, the task force will report to SHA about community reaction, and SHA may also hold one or more public hearings to gauge the roundabout's acceptance, Ms. Kalinowski said.

The eight committee members Mr. Feaga chose include a farmer, school bus contractor and a former Lisbon fire chief because, he said, they all have to move large vehicles through the intersection.

Many who work and live in the area will need plenty of convincing.

"I just don't think that it's really the thing to be doing. I think they really need to be putting up a light," said Maynard Watkins, who comes into Lisbon daily from farming land near Mount Airy.

He said he doesn't expect the circle to slow high-speed through traffic on 94, and pointed out that traffic circles he's seen have been in the middle of towns such as Hanover, Pa., where traffic moves much slower.

Others in the area have said they didn't want to become guinea pigs for an SHA experiment, especially at taxpayer expense. The permanent circle would cost $100,000 to $150,000.

But some, including Gene Mullinix, were swayed by the SHA's videotape and detailed explanation of the benefits of the new circle.

"I was dead against it because I didn't think it was workable," said Mr. Mullinix, who operates a grain elevator and farm supply business 1 1/2 miles south of Lisbon on Route 94. After hearing SHA officials out, however, "certainly to me it seems like a reasonable thing to try."

Mr. Mullinix, whom Mr. Feaga named to the task force, said he believed it would not be a problem getting trailers or combines through the roundabout.

"I realize it's going to slow us down with our trucks and so forth, but maybe that's a good idea," he said. "It certainly looked to me that it was better than having head-on collisions or direct broadsides."

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