Round in Circles: Wisconsin's DOT Imposes Roundabouts on Communities

Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz penned a glowing piece on the coming of roundabouts to many intersections across the state.  He even notes the community input process that accompanies the coming of roundabouts:

Fortunately, in Wisconsin we have state laws that require multiple alternative designs to be considered and, thanks to the practice of "community sensitive design," community members have the opportunity to participate in the decision making process on whether a roundabout or a new intersection makes sense for a neighborhood.

I hope all of the benefits are realized in southern Wisconsin, but I wonder if Senator Schultz is familiar with the story of the roundabouts in Kiel - the roundabouts on Highway 67 that are essentially being imposed on the community by the State Department of Transportation despite open opposition by numerous - I would wager a clear majority based on comments from an alderman I know and trust - members of the community.

Driving home from the airport in Milwaukee this summer, I wove in past the dairy farms on the outskirts of my home town to find a mess of orange road construction signs and an unfamiliar intersection.  

Half of the land in front of Larry's Good Time Inn had disappeared under a roadway that was not part of the roundabout.  It was the road that got everyone around the roundabout construction zone, one that, somewhat aburdly I thought, would be removed after the roundabout was completed.  There did not appear to be any direct route north on Highway 67 anymore.

Visiting my old babysitter Virgie later that weekend, I heard what seemed to be a typical a reaction to the ongoing project.  "Why are they spending all this money on a thing we didn't want when they should be spending money on other roads that are in bad shape?"

Some might simply dismiss any opposition as reactionary, but I think locals pointed out a great deal of folly in the projects as they opposed them.

Local officials, including State Senator Joe Leibham, did what they could to stop the roundabouts, but the state DOT essentially told them the project was too far along to change course:

“Then when the cost came in between $1 (million) and $2 million, it really blew up,” Keller said. “People were asking us, ‘Can’t you do something to stop it?’ So we looked for ways to postpone or eliminate it.”

The total costs exceed even those numbers.  The entire episode is really a glaring example of the audacity of a state agency in a time of scarcity.  A local government body with a rigorous fiscal conservative outlook took a good hard glance at a project through the eyes of people on the ground and recognized the project as unnecessary, improperly prioritized, and, at best, mis-timed.  

For all of their safety benefits, roundabouts also have the potential ancillary impacts of offending notions of local control, property rights, convenience, and fiscal responsibility.

I sincerely hope that the episode has made it clear to the DOT that it has a ways to go before it actually puts into practice the hopeful statutory language referenced by Senator Schultz.  Roundabouts are not always necessarily the most enlightened approach.