Roundabout moves traffic - and opinions

Posted: Monday, August 29, 2005

The Douglas Bridge roundabout is fully operational. Even so, Douglas resident Leimomi Matunding still leaves her home at 6:30 a.m. to get to her state job in Juneau and to avoid waiting in line.

"From the Breeze-In to the roundabout, it can take 20 minutes, especially in heavy traffic," she said.

That's around 8 a.m. on weekdays, during the so-called morning rush. Matunding has seen few benefits of the roundabout, she said. More often, she's seen near-fender-benders, from drivers who haven't yet grasped Juneau's newest traffic design.

"I haven't seen any improvements in terms of driving defensively," Matunding said. "I know it's going to be easier for North Douglas, because they have the right of way. But for the other side, from South Douglas, it's going to take a while. We still have a lot of drivers that are very cautious and they go really slow. They don't know how to do it correctly. Now that school's in session, it's going to get worse."

Opinion still seems to be mixed on the roundabout, depending on whether you live in Douglas, North Douglas, Juneau or West Juneau.

Robin Paul, a North Douglas resident for 21 years, was skeptical that the roundabout would alleviate any of the traffic congestion. But she's been pleasantly surprised.

"Originally they were going to have a reversible lane on the bridge, and I thought that may have been too extreme of a change," Paul said. "This seems to be working great. I don't see many lines from North Douglas, and I see a really nice merging pattern from Douglas. The consensus I'm hearing from everybody is that they're happy with it."

Pam Varni lives in a house set back from Douglas Highway, between the roundabout and the Douglas Breeze-In. She enters the circle from the North Douglas side; Sitka Street, a tiny connecting street 20 feet north of the roundabout, accesses her home.

"My husband and I really like it," she said. "Traffic just keeps moving. I still see cars at 8 in the morning, but it's probably not as bad as it was. The cars that are merging from North Douglas don't have a stop sign, just a yield. And the cars from Douglas just have to yield to people on the roundabout.

"We were wondering if we would see a lot of accidents, and we haven't heard of anything yet," she said.

Department of Transportation engineering manager Pete Bednarowicz has been pleased with the positive responses. He was in charge of the design of the roundabout from the first sketches to the final advertising.

"I haven't seen any problems at all with it," Bednarowicz said.

"Until people actually drove it and saw how it works, I'm sure there was a lot of skepticism," he said. "I know there were a lot of people writing letters to the editor in the paper that were just totally blown away, thinking that this thing was a pie in the sky and it wouldn't work."

It remains to be seen what happens when it snows, and large trucks have to negotiate the tight turn,

"It's always going to be a concern trying to get a snow plow to plow through there, and I guess we won't know until maintenance has had a chance to blade it," Bednarowicz said. "It's designed for large graders and snow trucks to make it, but it's still a tight turn all the way around."

Charles Campbell lives south of the roundabout, toward Douglas. Before the roundabout was finished, his neighbors were concerned that it would favor North Douglas traffic. Campbell is happy with the design, as is his son, who lives in North Douglas and commutes to Juneau in the morning.

"I think it's terrific," Campbell said. "I think it's a very fine piece of work that was done. I've talked to my son, and he seems to think it's fine."

"But I do think we will have some big problems when they begin to expand the size of the Breeze-In there, by putting the gas pumps in and increasing traffic," he said.

Mike Miller lives five houses down from the Douglas Breeze-In, toward Douglas. He doesn't use the roundabout during the morning rush, but he's been meaning to walk up to the traffic circle and observe around 8 a.m.

"The congestion in the past has always been from a quarter to 8 to a quarter after, and that's one reason I thought construction was a misplacement of too much money," Miller said. "It's essentially 30 minutes of congestion."

"I can't tell you how it works when the rush is on, and that's the reason it was built," he said. "It works fine for me, but I'm usually one of maybe three people in the thing at any one time."

Paul Gulyas, a retired Douglas resident, doesn't drive during the rush. But his concern - that the roundabout has awarded the first right-of-way to the traffic coming from North Douglas - is one shared by many in Douglas.

"The people from North Douglas have first access to the roundabout, which means that anybody from Douglas has to give way to somebody that wasn't already in the roundabout," Gulyas said. "It's completely reversed the congestion that existed before at peak traffic hours in the morning and the afternoon. But that's irrelevant to me, because I'm retired."

Matunding isn't, and she said she saw two near-crashes this weekend, outside of the rush.

"It's going to take a long time for everyone to understand what this is all about and really follow the pattern of what a roundabout is," Matunding said. "That's been my headache. I have drivers ahead of me that will stop and then suddenly take off, and I'll see another person trying to get on. It's been near hit and misses since it started."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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