Officials call new circle safest traffic option

It might make you dizzy, but only if you drive really fast.

Traffic officials have built Richmond County's first roundabout on Scott Nixon Memorial Drive as part of a larger project to connect the road to Wheeler Road.

Mason McKnight Parkway, as the new road will be called, is currently under construction and will be the new thoroughfare for several commercial developments planned near the Richmond and Columbia County line. It will feed traffic to several new stores, including a 67,768-square-foot outdoor retailer called Gander Mountain and a 24,488-square-foot Northern Tool & Equipment.

Development in the area has also led traffic planners to consider extending the nearby Frontage Road to the roundabout on Scott Nixon Memorial Drive but plans are still being discussed, according to Steve Cassell, a Richmond County traffic engineer.

The roundabout was chosen for the new development because of its efficiency in moving traffic and because it's generally considered to be safer than a normal four-way stop, Mr. Cassell said.

Roundabouts differ from traffic circles in both size and the rules that govern the traffic flow. They are smaller -- about 250 feet for a roundabout compared to about 1,000 feet for a traffic circle -- and unlike a traffic circle, drivers must yield when entering a roundabout. They also typically have a slower speed than their larger counterparts, which cuts down on the severity and frequency of accidents, Mr. Cassell said.

"A four-way intersection has 32 conflict points -- vehicle to vehicle -- and 24 for vehicle to pedestrian," Mr. Cassell said. "Whereas in a roundabout you have eight vehicle conflicts and eight pedestrian conflicts. So it significantly reduces the opportunity to cause accidents."

At least eight other locations have been discussed for roundabout intersections.

Mr. Cassell said he has been in talks with officials from the Medical College of Georgia and Paine College for a project near Druid Park Avenue and Laney-Walker Boulevard, he said.

"That one's just a concept and nothing has been funded," he said.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.