From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: Work has begun on a major change for drivers on Highways 58 and 68 in North Meigs County, where the Tennessee Department of Transportation plans to turn the four-way stop in the Four Corners area into a roundabout.
At first, some people on a Meigs County-centric social media page questioned if plans for such a change were even true, but the state’s contract construction firm, Talley Construction Co., appeared with crews in recent days and the dirt started flying, leaving no doubt.
The cost of the contract awarded to Talley Construction on March 10 was about $2.5 million, and the project completion date is May 31, 2024, according to state transportation officials, who note Talley’s contract contains some guardrail installation on Highway 58 about 2 miles north of the roundabout near Nebo Road.
The factor driving the project — the accident rate — is far higher at the four corners intersection than the state average, according to state transportation spokeswoman Rae Anne Bradley. She said the intersection wasn’t always an all-way stop.
“Before that, one route was the through-route that didn’t stop, and there were several angled crashes involving drivers attempting to cross the roadway. Thus, that’s why we currently have an all-way stop in its place with oversized stop signs, oversized advance warning signs, ‘Stop Ahead’ markings, buzz strips on the pavement, an overhead flashing beacon, etc. We’ve done everything we can at this intersection to get peoples’ attention,” Bradley said Friday in an email.
Even with such measures in place, the intersection still has a crash rate three times the statewide average for a similar intersection, she said.”In the past three years, there have been eight right-angle crashes,” Bradley said. “Roundabouts are proven to decrease the likelihood of angle crashes by roughly 72%. And, if crashes do occur, they are less injurious.”
On a site visit last week, a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press saw most traffic approaching the intersection was traveling on Highway 68.
Some vehicles were heading into the intersection from the north on Highway 58, but little traffic was entering the intersection on Highway 58 from the south. Traffic consisted of passenger cars, big rigs, trucks pulling boats and other trucks hauling construction or farming equipment. Most big rigs were on Highway 68, the connector linking Spring City and Sweetwater with Interstate 75 in between.
Rocky Patel, the clerk at the Four Corners Market on Thursday, said the project should improve intersection traffic, but business at the store seems to have slowed since the work began.
Patel said he thought motorists aren’t used to the construction zone yet and are bypassing the store. He said he would have to wait to see what the effect of the project is on business as it goes forward.
Nearby resident Jamie Waters said most folks in North Meigs County are concerned about the need for and function of the roundabout. She had also heard cost rumors that exceeded the project budget later released to the Times Free Press by the state.
“I heard it’s $7 million — $7 million for a roundabout when we have to wait 45 minutes for an ambulance to get here?” Waters said of the rumored price tag Thursday on her way into the Four Corners Market on the soon-to-be-rounded northwest corner of the intersection.
The roundabout is a foreign concept for many drivers, but traffic is bad, she said.
“I’ve lived here for 4 1/2 years, and traffic’s just gotten worse,” she said. “A girlfriend said she didn’t know how to use a roundabout, and I said I don’t know how to use it either.”
Waters said she and some others were puzzled about why the roundabout design was chosen in the first place.
“We’re all like, ‘Wouldn’t a traffic light be better?'” she said.
The Meigs County social media group page called “Meigs County Speaks Up” is where the project in the Four Corners to create the roundabout has been bantered for weeks because little has been known about project plans or why it’s needed.
“Roundabout is going to be a big mistake, wait and see,” Neda B. Sewell posted.Group member Faye Brazzell isn’t impressed with the plan for a roundabout, either, citing traffic including Tennessee Valley Authority trucks.
“I think it’s stupid to do that. We already have to fight the TVA traffic morning and evening, and you know those people can be crazy that works there,” Brazzell posted. “They’ll run over you trying to get to work and leaving work. I see a lot of road rage and wrecks there fixing to take place when they get it built.”
Some with a more humorous take pondered whether the crossroads area and store should update their names.
“They’ll circle back to that question,” group member Douglas Wright posted.
Tessa Ross predicted in a post that people will begin giving directions using the phrase, “You know where Four Corners used to be? …”
Group member Larry Mason posted that based on price estimates, he would name the project “Wheel of Fortune.”
According to Bradley, the design will be for a single-lane roundabout, designed to handle truck traffic using a built-in truck apron, which is a feature common to many modern roundabouts.
“The large concrete apron is designed to safely accommodate long trailers that cannot make the turn on the asphalt,” Bradley said. “Plenty of log trucks pass through this intersection, but the roundabout should not pose a problem to trucks, school buses, etc. The roundabout will reduce the delay drivers currently experience when stopping at the intersection, which should improve commute times for employees at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant.”
State officials pointed to a couple of simple rules to know when passing through the roundabout.
Traffic entering the roundabout yields to traffic already in the roundabout, and drivers in the roundabout should not stop for traffic entering the roundabout, Bradley said.
Though dubious, some Meigs motorists on the group page see hope with a bit of practice.
“Not a fan of roundabouts,” Kathleen Huckabey posted. “However, after people get used to it, it’ll be OK. It just takes time getting used to change. The construction stage will be the worst part of it.”
Clarissa Hyde added in a post that officials will “need to hold classes on how to use” the roundabout.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Melody Baker answered in her post. “I mean this is Meigs County and a lot of people don’t travel that far outside the county to even see a roundabout. It’s definitely gonna be popcorn worthy when it opens and I bet 4-corners market parking lot will be full of people in lawn chairs watching the entertainment.”
During construction, Bradley said drivers should expect some periodic delays as the contractor works to shift traffic around the construction of the central island. The work will be facilitated by temporary lane closures and flaggers, she said.