When it comes right down to it, there is only one thing people need to remember when navigating a new roundabout on Highway 101 near Digby.
So says a senior highway design engineer with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR).
“It is really just a yield sign,” says Keith Boddy of TIR. “You need to yield to the people in the circle. Once you have that down the rest of it is easy.”
But that’s the thing about roundabouts. Many people don’t expect them to be easy.
You dread them. You build up your nerve to navigate them. Where possible you avoid them. You may even curse them.
Or, you love them.
It’s that last category that Boddy fits into, but he knows not everyone does. And so he and Tony Harvey, a TIR area manager, accepted an invitation by Clare-Digby MLA Gordon Wilson to come to Digby for a public meeting to explain how the roundabout will work.
Boddy stressed the reason for roundabouts is all about safety.
This roundabout is at Exit 26 on Highway 101, which is the exit at Conway and Digby. It is needed to accommodate the construction of a new four-kilometre section of controlled-access Highway 101 roadway that will span from Marshalltown to Digby. The intention is to have the new section of highway completed this summer.
If you are coming into Digby and Conway at Exit 26 from the direction of Yarmouth, and/or if you are Halifax-bound when leaving Digby, you will use the roundabout.
If you are leaving Digby heading in the direction of Yarmouth, you will only go through the roundabout at Exit 26 if you choose to travel on Trunk 1 instead of the new section of Highway 101. If you are using the new section of highway, you’ll access it from the existing on-ramp people have always used to travel in this direction with no roundabout.
If you are approaching Digby from the Valley, you also will not use the round about when you are coming off the highway.
People at the July 17 public meeting questioned why a roundabout is needed at all. Why not just stop signs at the foot of the exit ramps?
Even Boddy acknowledged that many people have asked, “Why Digby?”
“We had to tie the new highway into the current highway, the new alignment. Trunk 1 has to tie back into it to be continuous,” he said. Stop signs at the foot of exit ramps would have required the new highway and Trunk 1 be 200 to 300 metres apart and that, Boddy said, would have required a new section of Trunk 1 be built about a kilometre long. He said that would have impacted some homes and businesses as they would have been in the way and “we would have had to take them.”
It’s not a route the department wanted to travel because of cost, but also because they wanted to avoid impacting more homes and businesses.
“It’s not as simple as two stop signs,” he said. “It’s a complete realignment of almost a kilometre of road.”
The other thing they could have done is had Trunk 1 end in a dead-end cul-de-sac. “But the only way in would have been from Marshalltown or one of the back roads to get onto the remainder of Trunk 1, which, frankly, we also didn’t feel was a good solution.”
Boddy noted there are 37 roundabouts in Nova Scotia, and the number will soon be increasing to 40. He said roundabouts have a proven safety record and keep traffic moving smoothly.
The new roundabout near Digby will provide a connection between Highway 101, Trunk 1 and Route 303.
Drivers in the roundabout have the right of way over vehicles who are entering it.
Roundabouts, Boddy said, are typically designed for speeds of 30 km/h.
And this is not a complicated roundabout. There is only on lane of traffic when you're driving in it.
It was mentioned during the July 17 meeting that the Armdale roundabout in HRM handles about 70,000 vehicles a day. The roundabout in Digby will handle about 3,000 vehicles.
It was noted the roundabout has been under construction. Once paved it will make the ride even easier, Boddy said. There is also better signage to come as what has existed during contruction is temporary signage.
CONCERN ABOUT PEDESTRIAN MOVEMENTS
One thing that caused a great deal of discussion at the meeting was the lack of pedestrian crosswalks in the roundabout. Both Boddy and Harvey said pedestrian crosswalks and sidewalks are the responsibility of municipalities and that the Municipality of Digby “chose not to participate” in this roundabout. But the men said they would bring the concerns raised back to the municipality.
“I want pedestrian movements in this circle. I will do my best, we’ll do our best, to lobby on behalf of this room to try and get something fixed that is out of our control,” Harvey said.
It was suggested from some who attended the meeting that people contact council members to express their concerns.
In Nova Scotia, Boddy said roundabout are now designed to accommodate 53-foot tractor trailers. The bevel of curbs have been changed – based on feedback from the trucking industry – to accommodate this, he said. Both he and Harvey said they had observed large trucks going through the Exit 26 roundabout and there were no issues.
While he is an engineer and a designer, Boddy purposely never referred to himself as a roundabout expert. Instead he referred to himself as a “constant learner,” when it comes to their designs.
According to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, the project involving the new section of highway and the roundabout is estimated to cost between $23 and $24 million. It is scheduled to be complete by the end of August.
Boddy said it didn’t cost the department extra to build the roundabout as other alternatives to a roundabout would have cost the same or, likely, been even been more costly.
Not everyone thinks the roundabout is a bad idea. One person at the meeting said it keeps traffic moving at a better pace and you don’t have to worry about being cut off by people coming off the exit ramp.
There was some mention about Wharf Rat Rally weekend and perhaps monitoring the roundabout and having some traffic control to ensure the is a good flow of traffic movement, considering how many motorcycles and vehicles will be using the exit to come into Digby in addition to the local traffic.
Meanwhile, Boddy suggested that those who have apprehensions about the roundabout to give it a try.
“Go early morning Sunday when there’s not many folks around and take your time, find your way through it,” he said. “Once you’re familiar that takes away a little bit of the fear but remember, it is really just a yield sign.”
ANOTHER STORY TO COME:
We'll have another story to come about discussion that took place at the meeting about the higway construction itself and what people feel about living along "Highway 101"