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Proposal could put roundabout near Sabino Canyon

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Posted at 10:30 PM, Apr 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-15 12:58:57-04

County leaders held a public meeting Thursday night to discuss proposed traffic safety improvement projects, including roundabouts.

About 80 people showed up to the presentation at the Kirk-Bear Canyon Library.

The idea is to put a roundabout at Sunrise and Sabino Canyon Road near the entrance to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Other proposed changes include the intersection of Tanque Verde Road and Tanque Verde Loop Road.

Seth Chalmers, with the Pima County Department of Transportation, says roundabouts are somewhat new to the U.S., and often people can be reluctant to the idea. However, Chalmers says studies show once drivers know how to maneuver them they reduce crashes and improve the overall flow of traffic.

Data from the Federal Highway Administration and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows roundabouts reduce overall collisions by 37%, and fatalities by 90%. Roundabouts reduce the number of conflict points at an intersection, meaning there are fewer chances for collisions involving vehicles and pedestrians. Speed limits are typically between 15 and 23 miles per hour.

According to a presentation from county leaders, in 2009 a roundabout was built at Camino Del Sol and Continental Road in Green Valley. There were 12 crashes before the construction, and none in the five years after it was built.

Chalmers says the Sabino Canyon and Tanque Verde two intersections were chosen because they have gotten complaints over the years about congestion and safety issues. 

The current proposal includes a roundabout at Sunrise and Sabino Canyon, where up to 15,000 people travel every day. What is now a private road, Remount Pl., would become a public road. The entrance to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area would move to the end of the new road and the parking lot would expand by about 100 spaces.

"I love roundabouts," said Bob Anderson. "I've driven extensively in Europe, I love them. But I think with Sabino Canyon and the elementary school sitting almost right on that intersection, that this is a bad choice for our roundabout."

Anderson lives in a community near Sabino Canyon. He says traffic often gets backed up on Sabino Canyon Road as hikers hit the trail during peak season. There is often a line of cars out of the parking lot, and into the intersection. However Anderson says the issue isn't the traffic, but the lack of parking. 

"When Sabino Canyon parking lot is overflowing, and the start and finish of that elementary school, it's a very busy intersection," Anderson said. "And I'm concerned it'll freeze up and we won't be able to get through it."

Martha Michaels also lives in the area just outside of Sabino Canyon. Her concern is Remount Pl. which now a private road, will become a public road. She had no idea that might change and thinks the new plans are about much more than just a roundabout.

"Our neighborhood has not been contacted about this to be involved in any way in the planning," Michaels said. "We don't know about purchasing the land, or are they going to condemn it? We don't know."

"I understand that they're trying to make this a better place for everyone, but this would bring into our neighborhood noise, traffic, air pollution," Michaels said. "We are used to walking up through there into the canyon over our private property and our whole quality of life would be impacted by that."
 
The project near Sabino Canyon would cost about $1.2 million, county leaders say, and would be paid for by federal money and county bond money. In terms of upkeep and construction, Chalmers says roundabouts cost about half as much as other intersections.

Right now the county is in the very early planning stages and the entire project could take about three years. Chalmers says he appreciates hearing the concerns of the community. 

"That was the object of the meeting tonight, to get the issues out on the table and hear what the public had to say and their concerns," Chalmers said. "So the next stage forward is to work through those concerns."

Changes at Tanque Verde Road and Tanque Verde Loop Road could include what's called a Green "T" intersection. Emily Gray Junior High School is on the corner, and Chalmers says there's a lot of congestion in the area. 

There have been 7 property damage crashes at that location, two injury crashes, and no fatalities. 

There will be four more public meetings, and you can submit a response online