Roundabout construction paused until March

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News

The $13.2 million reconstruction of N. Vine Street is somewhat paused for the winter, with all lanes open now. But work on Vine will start up again in March.

That’s when construction of the remaining three roundabouts will begin, according to City of Hays project manager John Braun.

The city’s first roundabout was finished Dec. 5.

While Facebook comments have been filled for months with hateful comments about roundabouts in general and more specifically the four slated for Vine, Braun said he’s heard only positive comments.

“Actually it’s been pretty quiet, besides maybe some horn honking out there actually onsite,” he said during a news briefing on Tuesday at City Hall, 1507 Main. “We’ve had some emails, some phone calls from people saying that they really like what it’s done.”

The new hourglass-shaped roundabout has eliminated two signal light systems that previously interrupted the flow of traffic on Vine Street at the intersections with 32nd and 33rd streets, Braun said.

“I think it’s pretty apparent that the traffic flows through, you don’t have traffic backing up at all,” Braun said. “Sometimes you may have to sit for a few minutes on the side street to wait for traffic to go by, but it’s nowhere near as long as the two-plus minutes that they were previously waiting for that light to change.”

With this being the city’s first roundabout, some were predicting the double roundabout would cause a lot of accidents on Vine. But Braun said that so far as he knows, there’s been only one collision. That was last Friday late in the afternoon.

“A semi truck trailer side-swiped a car next to it when they got together,” he said. “No injuries.”

A Smoky Hill Construction crew on Thursday set forms to pour concrete later in the day as they build the access road to a planned 37th Street roundabout.

As Vine Street motorists get used to the area’s first roundabout, Braun indicated that for smooth operation and safety, drivers must follow two basic rules as they approach the roundabout: Entering traffic must yield to traffic in the roundabout; and don’t stop while in the roundabout.

The recommended speed in the roundabout is 25 miles an hour.

Right now there are standard signs to alert drivers to the roundabout on Vine Street, Braun said. Those bear the roundabout symbol and advise about speed.

Then on the north and south sides of the approaches to the roundabout, there are also temporary variable message boards telling motorists to yield to the traffic in the roundabout.

To beef up that signage, the city has ordered yield signs with flashing LED lights embedded into the sign itself. Those will likely be delivered after Christmas and the city will get them up as soon as possible, Braun said.

“Certainly it’s a unique design and it’s not a typical four-way roundabout,” Braun said. “Although it still functions the same way, the same rules apply. The same advice would be given if it were a regular roundabout. But yeah it does add a little bit of complexity in that it is elongated.”

Next three roundabouts

The three remaining roundabouts will be the typical four-way ones, he said, which are less complicated to drive than the hourglass.

“It’s kind of like teaching you how to swim, we’ll just take you out in the boat and throw you in,” Braun joked. “The next ones will be a piece of cake.”

The city’s contract with Smoky Hill Construction, of Salina, calls for construction of the next three to start March 15. They will all be built at the same time. Meanwhile over the winter, construction crews are building a Skyline Drive extension and related roundabout access roads.

But there won’t be any lanes on Vine Street shut down again until March, Braun said.

At that time, the contractor will start on the west half of Vine for roundabouts at 37th Street, the eastbound off-ramp to Interstate 70 and the intersection at 41st and Mopar streets.

“They’ll basically shift all the traffic over to the east side and start building all three of those at once,” he said.

They should be done Nov. 12, 2021.

Watch for pedestrians

The pedestrian crossings on the hourglass roundabout are still technically closed, Braun said. The city must install require tactile dimpled surfaces to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This colder weather is outside the specs for the glue that puts those down,” he said. “We’re expecting some warmer weather later this week. Temperature gets back up, they’ll get those put down and we’ll get those crosswalks open. They’re functional now, but not technically open.”

There are flashing beacons at the cross walk, so traffic can be stopped with the push of a button to allow crossing.

“You push the button, the lights will flash rapidly yellow, alerting the motorist to a pedestrian wanting to cross,” Braun said. “Motorists are always legally required to yield to, stop for, pedestrians in the crosswalk.”