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Construction under way

Intersection destruction commenced Monday morning at High School Road and Madison Avenue for roundabout construction. Detours will redirect traffic around the normally busy intersection for the next three weeks. - RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo
Intersection destruction commenced Monday morning at High School Road and Madison Avenue for roundabout construction. Detours will redirect traffic around the normally busy intersection for the next three weeks.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

The “high school road” won’t necessarily get you there, and the library’s Zen garden isn’t very.

Changes were plenty for motorists and pedestrians alike Monday, as the first day of an expected three-week closure went into effect at the busy intersection of Madison/High School.

Drivers to and from the ferry and downtown Winslow were forced to adjust to detours that, by virtue of the few alternative routes at hand, took them miles out of their way.

“It’s a huge ‘block,’” conceded Randy Witt, director of public works for the city.

With an array of lumbering and noisy equipment, Ace Paving crews got started on the island’s new traffic roundabout, the first phase of a $1.513 million reconstruction of High School Road, from Madison west to Sportsman Club Road.

One by one, large chunks of concrete sidewalk were plucked up, smashed into more-wieldy chunks, and deposited in the back of waiting dumptrucks.

All asphalt was to be ripped up and carted off by the end of work Tuesday, with trenching for underwater utilities and the other first steps of reconstruction set for today.

“They should be approaching it with gusto,” said Lorenz Eber, traffic engineer for the city and coordinator for the roundabout project.

Missteps seemed few, although heavy traffic and slowdowns were reported on the highway, and numerous vehicles were observed cutting through Hildebrand Lane and the commercial buildings there.

The Bainbridge Library parking lot became an informal turnaround, as some motorists went past “Detour” signs only to find themselves faced with barricades at the intersection.

A few wayward youths attempting to reach Safeway were caught trying to cross the construction zone, and were redirected to the proper crossing areas. City officials asked pedestrians to keep to the outside of the orange fences, and to cross the street at the wooden barricades that bound the work zone.

The effect on response times for emergency vehicles from the Madison Avenue fire hall did, though, become an issue, when crews responded to an afternoon fire alarm at, ironically enough, city hall.

Fire Chief Jim Walkowski said that under most circumstances, fire trucks and aid units will continue to use the intersection, and so it was Monday.

“We brought three rigs through there, and there was no problem whatsoever,” Walkowski said.

Department officials are meeting daily with the contractor to check the status of the project, and crews have been instructed to move barricades and equipment to allow emergency vehicles through.

Other motorists are asked to use Wyatt Way, Sportsman Club Road, New Brooklyn Road and the highway to skirt the construction zone.

But those bound for the library, St. Cecilia parish, the First Church of Christ Scientist, or the school campus and the Commodore building, will find all parking lots accessible.

There was some confusion about the status of the Bainbridge Library. By Tuesday morning, a sign had appeared at the Madison Avenue driveway, reading, “YES, the library is open.”

“Just come from the side that the parking lot is on, and you’ll get there,” Witt said.

21 days

In ripping up the intersection, construction crews faced an aggressive schedule, working to complete the roundabout in 21 calendar days or less.

Monetary incentives to speed the work along are built into the contract, and crews will be on site from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Work to the west should continue until next spring, allowing for a weather-related winter shutdown.

During that work, High School Road will be open, but traffic may be restricted to one lane with flaggers.

Round, round

The Bainbridge Island City Council approved the roundabout last spring, choosing the design over a traffic signal.

While the plan generated considerable skepticism on the part of the letter-writing public, city engineers cited traffic and insurance studies that showed roundabouts to be safer than signalized intersections, in terms of both number and severity of accidents.

The design is intended to defy the whims of speeding motorists, as suggested speed through the roundabout is 15 mph.

Eber said that Monday, despite considerable publicity, he fielded questions from passersby who believed the completed project would resemble the small “neighborhood” circles found in some parts of Seattle, or the giant rotaries of the East Coast.

Instead, the single-lane “modern roundabout” will have a diameter of 104 feet from curb to curb, bounded by sidewalks and planter strips.

Separated “splinter islands” in each direction are intended to give pedestrians safe haven in mid-stream.

Vehicles will keep right as they enter the roundabout, yielding first to pedestrians in the crosswalk, then to other motorists already in the circular area of the intersection, then again to pedestrians as they leave.

All vehicle travel is counter-clockwise, and all exits from the roundabout are negotiated with a right turn.

Vehicles travel 270 degrees – circumnavigating three-quarters of the circle – to make the equivalent of a left turn.

“As soon as it goes in, people are going to say, ‘ah, it’s not like I thought,’” Eber said.

An education component has already started; the public works department has printed 11,000 copies of a brochure titled “How To Use The Roundabout.”

The pamphlet includes a drawing of the project design, and a series of how-to’s for negotiating the intersection as a motorist, pedestrian or bicyclist.

The brochure will be mailed to all island households, and copies are available at city hall, the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce office, and other locations around town.

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