The Hays City Commission on Thursday heard an update on a conceptual plan calling for three possible roundabouts to someday be constructed on Vine Street in efforts to improve traffic flow.

The project is in preliminary phases, so many details are not finalized. Cost estimates are unknown, and the city is in the process of identifying potential funding sources.

“For many years, the city has been attempting to find a solution to traffic problems in the north Vine Street corridor,” said John Braun, the city’s project manager. “A few concepts have been developed in the past to address some of the issues, but most of them fall short of solving the root of the problem.”

Efforts to re-configure Vine Street can be dated back to the 1990s, he said. The city a few years ago conducted a Kansas Department of Transportation-funded traffic engineering assistance study looking at the area’s needs.

The close proximity of Vine Street frontage roads cause traffic congestion and, in some places, difficulty making left turns. A lack of road stacking also is part of the problem, Braun said.

The study rated service onto Vine from 35th and 37th street as an F, the lowest possible score.

The city anticipates the site of the former Ambassador hotel will be re-developed into commercial business, and it has expressed a desire to improve accessibility in the area.

“Redevelopment is bound to happen,” Braun said. “So for nearly two years already, city staff has been working with WSP Engineers to conduct a traffic impact study and a concept plan.”

It was that engineering firm, which has an office in Wichita, that proposed the roundabout concept. KDOT has reviewed the plan and given conditional support.

A large, two-lane roundabout in the shape of a peanut is proposed in the area of 32nd and 33rd street intersections. Two smaller, circular roundabouts are proposed at the intersections of 35th/37th and 41st streets.

Stop lights from 29th to 43rd would be removed.

In some areas, left turns would be prohibited from the frontage roads, with the goal of improving traffic flow. Making the suggested changes would reduce the existing conflict points from 66 to 28, reducing the likelihood of accidents, Braun said. The frontage roads would be used for access to certain businesses as needed.

City officials already have had discussions with several business owners who would be affected by the changes and are willing to take any concerns under consideration, Commissioner Sandy Jacobs said, noting she favors the proposal.

“I understand there’s a lot of minutia in this thing. I’m thrilled we’re investigating the concept,” she said. “No doubt that we have property owners who have concerns and citizens who have concerns. But the fact that we’re opening it up and being really transparent about the way we’re looking at this and inviting people to comment and be involved, I think that’s a really good thing.”

The roundabout at 41st also would address a longtime concern about difficulty turning left onto Vine. Left turns are prohibited on 41st Street, so many drivers make a U-turn at 43rd.

All roundabouts would have a mountable truck apron to allow for semis and wide loads. Braun was asked specifically about trucks that often pass through Hays hauling wind turbine blades, and he said the road width with the aprons will be navigable.

“They are designed to accommodate the 53-foot trailer with the super cab,” Braun said. “They can negotiate the roundabout.”

Vice Mayor James Meier also spoke in favor of the overall concept, but said he would prefer to see one-lane roundabouts for easier use.

“When you have one lane coming in all directions, roundabouts work very well,” he said. “When you have four lanes and then two lanes, they don’t work so well.”

He said the city of Emporia recently reconfigured its roundabouts to one lane after having difficulty with multiple lanes, and said the city should “learn from Emporia’s mistakes.”

Cost is likely to be a significant consideration in whether to move the project forward. Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV said he had multiple concerns, including the steep price tag.

The city does not yet have firm cost estimates and is working to identify potential funding sources, such as any grant opportunities that might be available from state and federal government. KDOT has indicated some funds might be available, but likely not enough to cover costs, City Manager Toby Dougherty said.

Schwaller also expressed skepticism that drivers correctly would maneuver through the roundabouts.

“I have two concerns. One is 35th Street, I think, is going to be very difficult, just as our 27th and Ash. People don’t use Ash correctly,” he said. “I don’t think that a block or a sign is going to prevent someone from trying to turn left and screwing the whole thing up. I don’t think, I know. They’re not going to follow what we want them to do. They’re going to do what they want to do.”

Dougherty said there could be barriers added to direct traffic in dedicated turning lanes.

Other commissioners said they are confident Hays drivers could adjust, and expressed optimism the changes might make the city easier to navigate for visitors off of I-70, as roundabouts are becoming more common. Interstate 70 traffic would be directed through the roundabout in order to travel south.

“It will be painful, but it will be painful one time rather than repeatedly,” Jacobs said of the potential construction period. “I think it’s a wonderful idea. I have no idea the cost yet and of course that’s going to be serious. … I’m getting real tired of hearing that the people in Hays aren’t smart enough to do this, because I promise you, the people of Hays are smart enough to do this.”

More information about the concept can be found on the city’s website, haysusa.com. There is a link on the home page for Vine Street roundabouts.