As the "Big I" roundabout nears completion, education sessions continue to help motorists learn best practices for navigating the transformed intersection — especially with a projected two-lane opening in the next few weeks.
Jill Harry and Joshua Kaufer, both from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, presented information on safely passing through the roundabout from the different vantage points and answered a number of questions from the public Thursday morning at Active Aging in Meadville.
While there were about 30 attendees at the session, there were estimates between 200 and 300 people at PennDOT's last Active Aging information session on Aug. 21. Kaufer mentioned they would be open to additional education sessions for the public as requested by interested organizations.
"I think (the sessions) have been really well-attended," Kaufer said in an interview. "The groups that have come have been really engaging and have a lot of productive questions. They've been a good way to answer questions that couldn't be answered from a general news release."
Among her words of advice, Harry warned those in attendance never to stop inside the roundabout, using the same logic as never stopping in the middle of a traditional intersection, and also said to continue around when an ambulance is approaching. Drivers should pull over once they have exited the roundabout to let any emergency vehicles pass.
She also stressed the need to use turn signals as you approach your exit at the roundabout to let yielding drivers know to enter rather than wait.
Harry and Kaufer said the most common questions have had to do with yielding and maneuvering details — from where they're coming and to where they're going. Several questions from the audience had to do with correct lanes to get from Meadville to Conneaut Lake, for instance, or from Route 98 to the Vernon Place YMCA. Another attendee pointed out the new crosswalks and pedestrian access at the intersection.
"I think the biggest safety issue is just familiarity," Kaufer said. "Since it's not a familiar intersection in this area, making sure people feel comfortable approaching them is going to make them feel safer, and less people will avoid the intersection."
According to Harry, PennDOT has completed five other multi-lane roundabouts and has three others under construction, besides at the Big I, and a couple in development around the commonwealth. She also said studies have shown roundabouts to be much safer for drivers, eliminating fatality and serious injury crashes due to slower speeds and lack of "T-bone" collisions.
Overall she said the crowd was "friendly" during the presentation, recalling more "contentious" feedback during design meetings.
"I think most of these folks have come out because they're honestly interested in being educated, and they're not here to fight change," Harry said. "That has helped presentations flow and for us to answer more questions."
The Big I roundabout, which connects routes 6, 322, 19 and 98, is anticipated to be fully open to traffic at the end of the month or early October, weather permitting, according to Kaufer. Construction will continue for lighting, signage and finally, painting lines and arrows on the road.
The intersection is currently open as a single-lane roundabout. The multi-lane roundabout project is contracted to cost $6.1 million, paid entirely with federal funds, according to PennDOT.
Local organizations interested in hosting a Big I roundabout education session should call Harry at (814) 678-5035.
Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.