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Virginia completes traffic control experiment today

Gilberts Corner Roundabout Web.jpg
Artist's rendering of new roundabout at Route 50/15 junction in Gilbert's Corner. (VDOT)

The last link in a new Virginia traffic calming program will be joined today. The state transportation department is reopening the junction of Routes 50 and 15 in Loudoun County with a new look: There's no traffic signal to sort out the north-south and east-west traffic.

Instead, drivers will control their own destiny, navigating through a roundabout. Yes, it's a traffic circle, but many engineers refer to roundabouts as "modern traffic circles," because they know you hate the old kind. This will not be like Dupont Circle.

The new style of roundabout should accomplish these good things: Move more traffic than a signalized intersection, reduce the danger of crashes, cut delays, improve fuel consumption and reduce air pollution. Ideally, drivers will slow down (the speed limit is 25 mph) and yield to traffic already in the roundabout before taking their turn entering.

If everybody can keep moving slowly, it's better than the stop-and-start of a red light-green light intersection.

The one at Gilbert's Corner, where 50 and 15 meet, is set to open after this morning's rush hour. This is six weeks ahead of schedule, despite a very rainy spring, which slowed many construction projects in our region.

For those who commute through this lovely part of eastern Loudoun, today's roundabout experience won't be a new one, because there already are three other roundabouts in the vicinity of the new one that are part of the same traffic calming program. (See a VDOT map.)

Roundabouts work best when the traffic on the roads entering them is balanced. If almost all the drivers were on Route 50, you wouldn't get the breaks in traffic needed to let the Route 15 drivers get their turn in the circle. So part of this program involved building a new road and creating diversions that would calm the traffic flow and balance it out before the main junction at 50 and 15.

By opening up the other roundabouts first, the program gave regular drivers a chance to get used to the new system, but this still is likely to take some getting used to before we can really tell if it works.

"We realize that there will be a learning curve at first, since this is a new and very different traffic pattern," Kenny Robinson, VDOT's Route 50 corridor program manager, said in a statement about today's opening. "We just ask that motorists take it slow and remember to yield to traffic in the roundabout."

After the morning rush hour, VDOT said, crews will remove traffic signals at the intersection, officially opening the new roundabout. They will also reopen Route 50 between Route 15 and Howsers Branch Drive, which has been closed to traffic with a detour since July.

Workers will continue installing curb and gutter, ditches, drainage pipes, pavement, signs and topsoil. Over the next two months, VDOT said, they will finish lighting, landscaping, pavement markings, additional islands and truck aprons around the circle. The entire $15.8 million project is scheduled to be done in December.

So the area now has four roundabouts at these locations: Gilbert's Corner, Route 50 and Watson Road, and either end of Howsers Branch Drive. The direct link Howsers Branch creates between Routes 50 and 15 allows northbound Route 15 and westbound Route 50 traffic to bypass Gilberts Corner.

That's crucial. It should reduce the number of vehicles going through that intersection by about one-third, VDOT said. Near the intersection, Route 50 carries about 15,000 vehicles a day and there are about 11,000 a day on Route 15.

By Robert Thomson  |  October 1, 2009; 7:45 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Construction , Driving  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Gilberts Corner, Loudoun, Route 50, roundabout  
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