MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin state lawmaker said Tuesday that municipalities should have the final say on whether roundabouts are built on state and county highways, saying local officials are in the best position to say whether they are needed.
Wisconsin is seen as a national leader in using the European-style traffic circles, building an estimated 280 in about two decades on state and local roads. Another 90 are planned over the next three years, according to the state Department of Transportation.
For Rep. David Craig, R-Big Bend, the buildout may be going too far. Craig testified before the Assembly Committee on Transportation in support of his own bill to steer control back to local governments.
"I think that the DOT is over-utilizing them and putting them in places where they are just not workable," Craig said in an interview. "Whether that's because it's too much of a hassle to negotiate them or the traffic count is too high, it's a combination of those problems."
A state engineer spoke against veto power for local communities, saying the roundabouts have cut crashes.
"We started doing roundabouts because Wisconsin back in the late 1990s (was) identified as having an above average crash problem at intersections," said Jerry Zogg, a WisDOT Chief Roadway Standards and Methods Engineer. "We needed to figure out a way to have intersection crash rates (down) in Wisconsin."
A WisDOT study last year found they reduced severe crashes in Wisconsin by 38 percent, although they increased less serious "fender benders" — perhaps by motorists unsure how to negotiate them — by 12 percent.
Studies show drivers unfamiliar with roundabouts typically dislike them before they're built, but change their minds once they get familiar with them, Zogg said in an interview before the hearing.
Rep. Alvin Ott, R-Forest Junction, expressed dismay that the committee was considering the bill.
"I'm just disappointed that we're going to do this," Ott said. "But I don't think we're going to do this because I don't think the bill will go through right now."
The only testimony in support came from a modular housing company representative, Amy Bliss, who said her company's drivers take longer routes to avoid having to negotiate the roundabouts with their big trucks. That increases transportation costs, she said.
The Assembly is expected to end its session for the year next month. Craig said he didn't expect the bill to pass this year, but he was happy that it got a public hearing after it was introduced last year.
"I'm glad to be moving it along the process," Craig said. "We're fighting our own Department of Transportation on this. They have skin in the game to protect their traffic models."