Rochester roundabout allows quick drive
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One of Mary Jo Morandini's colleagues in the transit industry has an office with a three-sided view of Puget Sound.
"When I look behind me it's OK that I don't have Puget Sound ... I now get to see this spectacular view. It is far more beautiful than I could have envisioned," said Ms. Morandini, general manager of Beaver County Transit Authority.
Her view is the Rochester roundabout, a circular solution to a seemingly intractable traffic mess at what once was a six-point intersection in the heart of the borough's business district.
As dignitaries clipped a ribbon and celebrated the $1.8 million project Friday, cars, trucks and buses glided with almost no delays through a hub that once featured long waits for traffic signals, frayed nerves and crashes.
The old intersection was so bad that locals went out of their way to miss it -- nearly 600 vehicles a day.
"I would go backward to go forward to avoid the red lights," recalled Republican state Sen. Elder A. Vogel Jr. of New Sewickley.
Tony Amadio, chairman of the county commissioners and a Rochester native, remembered seven-minute waits for the light to change to green. When the roundabout opened last July, he was a bit giddy. "I went around and around. I had a ball," he said.
Democratic state Rep. Rob Matzie of Ambridge watched the old intersection from an office window for 11 years when he worked as an aide to then-Sen. Gerald LaValle. He once was its victim. A driver flying through a yellow light collided with his vehicle.
The roundabout, developed with a state "smart transportation" grant obtained by the transit authority, sits where Brighton Avenue, the borough's main drag, intersects Adams Street and Rhode Island Avenue, a convergence of some of Beaver County's principal routes.
A modern version of the old traffic circle, a roundabout eliminates traffic signals, stop signs and left turns against traffic. Traffic flows continuously in a counterclockwise direction, and vehicles entering the loop yield to those already in it.
Roundabouts improve safety because vehicles travel in the same direction at slow or moderate speeds, reducing or eliminating the danger of head-on or right-angle crashes. With no traffic lights, drivers don't speed up to make a green light or make abrupt stops on a red signal.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, roundabouts bring a 90 percent reduction in fatal crashes and a 75 percent reduction in crashes with injuries. They carry about 30 percent more vehicles in peak traffic than signalized intersections.
Since it opened, Rochester's version has reduced delays by up to 90 percent. The transit agency's buses are synchronized to arrive at the same time at a station next to the roundabout so riders can make quick transfers. The buses no longer get stuck at the intersection.
"We're able to ensure transfers are not missed. Customers have a much greater comfort level," Ms. Morandini said. And the drivers love it, because of the few extra minutes of break time they get and not having to make dangerous left turns as they head back out, she said.
On Friday, at a place that once brimmed with angst, there were only smiles and raves.
"Something we can all be proud of," said Dan Cessna, PennDOT district executive.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show what we can do," said Richard Ober, board chairman of the transit authority, which oversaw the project.
"I can sum up the whole thing with one word -- wow," said Rochester's mayor, Sam Scriva.
First Published May 19, 2012 12:00 am