OKEECHOBEE – Work on the roundabout on U.S. 441 S.E. at Southeast 18th Terrace had traffic backed up in both directions last week, with motorists complaining about the delays.
More delays are expected this week as construction continues.
According to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), crews will reconstruct the intersection at U.S. 441 S.E. and SE 18 Terrace to a roundabout. Additional work includes resurfacing U.S. 441 S.E. and 18th Terrace, improving drainage along US 441 S.E., installing streetlights, installing curb and gutter, signage and pavement markers.
Daytime and nighttime lane closures may occur during construction Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., weather permitting.
FDOT advises: Motorists should expect a new traffic pattern on US 441 S.E. There will be a single 24-hour lane closure on U.S. 441 S.E. The existing roadway will be closed, and motorists will be directed to the newly installed roadway. Only one lane on U.S. 44 S.E. will be open during this construction phase. Portable traffic signals will be placed on each end of the project on US 441 S.E. to direct motorists when to stop and go.
Driveway assistance devices are placed at each driveway within the project limits on SE 18 Terrace and US 441 S.E. to direct motorists when to merge onto the roadway.
Construction on the project began in August 2020. Estimated completion of the roundabout project is summer 2021. The contractor is CWR Contracting, Inc.
The FDOT plan to put a roundabout at that intersection was opposed by local residents and some local officials.
County officials had previously asked FDOT for a traffic signal at that intersection. Between 2011 and 2013, there were 14 recorded crashes at that intersection, three with injuries and 11 with property damage, according to FDOT.
At the Sept. 25, 2018 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commissioners, Nicolas Leon, FDOT project engineer, said FDOT considered a traffic signal for the intersection, but their study found a roundabout would increase safety and improve traffic flow.
According to the 2014 FDOT Memorandum titled “Phase 1 Roundabout Feasibility Screening”:
• A roundabout has the potential to provide safety benefits including a reduction in all crashes by 71 percent and a reduction in severe (injury and fatal crashes) by 87 percent. Over a 10-year period, a roundabout has the potential to reduce a total of 10 crashes, with four of those being fatal or injury.
• A signal has the potential to reduce all crashes by 50 percent and injury/fatal crashes by 40 percent. This results in the potential to reduce a total of seven crashes, with three of those being fatal or injury over a 10-year period.
Mr. Leon said the estimated cost of the project is $1.9 million.
At that 2018 meeting, Commission Chair Terry Burroughs said roundabouts work well in some places but he did not think it is the right choice for that intersection. “That’s a major thoroughfare cut-through road to downtown,” he said. “We have a lot of older folks who live there.
“I am not against roundabouts; I am just against roundabouts in that particular area. You have trucks, people pulling trailers, all kinds of things going down U.S. 441,” he said.
Mr. Leon said the speed limit on U.S. 441 S.E. in that area is 45 mph. The roundabout speed limit would be 25 mph and the design forces drivers to slow down, he said. He said the design allows curbing, which helps the semis make the turns. He said in other areas they have put in roundabouts, it has worked well for the trucks.
On Feb. 13, Burroughs posted an update on Facebook about the intersection of U.S. 441 S.E. and S.E 18th Terrace : "I spoke with the District 1 Secretary for FDOT last night regarding the mess they created without informing the appropriate authorities. They did send out a crew last night to re-adjust signalization. Fire Chief (Ralph) Franklin informed me this morning, the traffic flow was a little better but will not be the best until construction is completed. For those of you feel that the county had any authority to stop the construction of the roundabout, you are incorrect. This is a State road and FDOT has the authority over the road. The county, over a span of 18 months, did offer a different solution, but the solution was turned down by FDOT."