Around and around they might go — Macon County eyed for roundabouts

It’s a dizzying prospect, but a group looking at future traffic patterns and demands in Macon County is considering including as many as four roundabouts in a recommendation to county and town leaders.

Additionally, Macon County’s second roundabout is being built as part of the Siler Road project, now under way. There is a min-roundabout (perhaps a practice one?) already built near the county library. This means Macon County residents and visitors could have as many as six circular routes to navigate when all is said and done.

The $6.8 million Siler Road project will provide additional access to the Macon County campus of Southwestern Community College and to the county library.

The Macon County Transportation Steering Committee has suggested using roundabouts at U.S. 441 Business and Maple Street, and at three intersections: Wayah and Porter streets, Wells Grove and Clarks Chapel roads and Depot and Wayah streets.

The roundabouts are simply possibilities and are open to debate and discussion, said Ryan Sherby, the rural planning organization coordinator for Southwestern Development Commission, a regional council for the state’s seven westernmost counties.

The transportation steering committee is trying to decide what best to do about traffic in “areas of concern” in Macon County that were identified by the state Department of Transportation. Members will make a final recommendation to county commissioners and elected leaders in Franklin and Highlands.

Sherby said the roundabouts and other preliminary recommendations will be reviewed — and he hopes something approved — during a meeting toward the end of the month. A workshop for the public will be held in January, he said.

“There are times when a roundabout might be an appropriate intersection treatment as opposed to a signalized intersection, when considering capacity and safety,” Sherby said. “Although, on a cost comparison, lots of factors come into play such as utility relocations and potential additional right-of-way costs.”

Macon County Manager Jack Horton previously worked in Haywood County as county manager. There are now two roundabouts in Haywood, but when Horton was serving as manager the very prospect of what one resident dubbed “dummy circles” being built sparked a minor brouhaha.

Today, as Horton recently noted, very few complaints about the roundabouts are heard in Haywood County. And, they seem to perform exactly as proponents promised, safely and efficiently moving traffic through two busy intersections.

Macon County Transit Director Kim Angel raised concerns to her fellow steering committee members about the elderly population in Macon County — and this county is, in terms of median age, one of the “oldest” in North Carolina — being able to successfully round-the-roundabouts.

In a follow-up conversation this week, she reiterated those concerns, saying she was most troubled by the possibility of a roundabout near the county’s senior center, where Franklin High School is also located.

As the transportation committee works on figuring traffic needs through 2035, one potential hotspot is being worked into plans: Traffic changes from the new Wal-Mart Super Center planned for the intersection of Wells Grove and Dowdle Mountain roads.

Luckily, “(the project) surfaced during the process,” Sherby said, adding that transportation department officials have shared their traffic plans concerning the new Wal-Mart with the committee.

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