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Two New Roundabouts Coming to One Grand Traverse County Road Project

Gt Road Work
Gt Roundabout
Gt Road Construction

Another phase of a major road project in Grand Traverse County gets underway Monday. The Road Commission is working on two roundabouts for one road, and it’s a project that will continue throughout the summer.

The Grand Traverse County Road Commission is working on improvements to Keystone Road south of Traverse City. That road work includes new roundabouts.

While some drivers may not be huge fans, the Road Commission says roundabouts help move traffic more smoothly. They’re also safer. “Roundabouts are just inherently safer. If you take your typical four-way intersection with four legs off of it, you’ve got 32 points of conflict. That’s 32 opportunities for cars to come together and meet where they should not be meeting.” Wayne Schoonover is the Manager of Engineering/County Highway Engineer with the Grand Traverse Co. Road Commission. He says, in many locations, roundabouts are more effective than traffic signals. “When you get to a certain kind of capacity or you get certain types of large influxes of traffic, signals can’t just flip on a dime and handle all of that.”

Krista Phillips is an MDOT Operations Engineer based in Traverse City. She agrees that roundabouts are a safety improvement, and traffic studies back that up. “They say a single-lane roundabout reduces severe crashes by 90% and reduces all crashes by 75%.”

MDOT recently added two new roundabouts on M-37 (one a single-lane roundabout, the other a two-lane), and Phillips says there also seems to be less pushback from motorists in recent years.  “I think there is a lot of people that are against them, until they try them. And then they see, ‘oh wow this actually is easier to get across.’”

Drivers may be coming around to the idea of more roundabouts on their roads. Traffic engineers say it’s not just about reducing the number of crashes but also changing the type of crashes we see on the roadways. Schoonover says, “They tend to all be very low-speed, because we’re bringing people down to 20 and 15 miles per hour to go through a roundabout. And at that speed you get a fender-bender versus any kind of high-speed, side-impact that can be life-threatening or lethal.”  Phillips adds, “Since all four directions of traffic slow down, it reduces the likelihood of a high-speed angle crash. Which is typically the most severe crash you’ll find.”

That’s not to say roundabouts always result in fewer crashes. Schoonover says, “In some cases you’ll see an increase in crashes. But the benefit is those crashes are all low-speed, side-angle types of crashes that typically only ever result in property damage only.”

The Keystone Road work includes new roundabouts – at both Cass Road and another at Beitner Road. “We have a September finish date, but as I mentioned we are ahead of schedule,” Schoonover says.

Both the Road Commission and MDOT say you can expect to see more of them in future road projects. “They are here to stay. I think we should expect to see more,” Phillips says. “And I would like to remind drivers that the people that are already in the roundabout, in the circle, have the right of way.” Drivers entering a roundabout should wait for a break in traffic to proceed.

Grand Traverse County says a roundabout for the Garfield/Potter/Hoch road intersection will be funded by a federal safety grant in 2023. Roundabouts on Hammond at both Garfield and 3 Mile Roads are coming, but may be 10 years down the road. “More of these are going to be coming. Not only on our system but we also have the city, we also have the state. We’re going to be seeing a lot more roundabouts kind of coming in and around,” Schoonover says.

MDOT is considering a roundabout for the M72/M22 intersection (), which is now for a 2025 start date.