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Rimrock Rd roundabout

Traffic moves through the intersection at 62nd Street West and Rimrock Road, where a roundabout is proposed, on Wednesday.

The stream of Billings residents who filed through the offices of Sanderson Stewart on Wednesday evening were eager to talk roundabouts. 

Specifically, they were ready to show support for doing something to address the safety issues at the intersection of Rimrock Road and 62nd Street West. The meeting was an open house sponsored by the Montana Department of Transportation, which is proposing to rebuild the intersection with a roundabout.

"There are so many wrecks," said Nancy Merkel. "There are so many accidents it's not even funny."

Proposed Rimrock Road roundabout

This rendering shows the proposed roundabout at the intersection of Rimrock Road and 62nd Street West. 

It's a unique intersection. As Rimrock moves west out of Billings, it curves to the north and becomes 62nd Street West. Halfway through the curve, motorists have the option to pull out and continue moving west on Rimrock. The odd configuration of roads creates three different points along the curve were traffic can meet, increasing the odds for wrecks. 

Merkel's home sits at the top of the curve, where she's lived for 25 years, watching traffic flow by her property. She's seen motorists during the winter hit the curve and slide straight into the ditch in front of her house. Semi trucks barrel through at full speed. She and her husband Al are grateful to see something being done. 

"We're not so much concerned about the roundabout," she said. "What we're concerned about ... is the culvert system."

Rimrock Rd roundabout

Rimrock Road neighbors Al and Nancy Merkel talk about a proposed roundabout at 62nd Street West and Rimrock Road during a public open house at Sanderson Stewart on Wednesday.

The land around the intersection is wet; when it rains, pools of standing water appear on both sides of the road, said Kirk Spalding, the transportation market lead at Sanderson Stewart and one of experts working on the roundabout project. 

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The Merkels have a culvert that moves water off their property by running under the curve that connects Rimrock and 62nd. Initial plans for the new roundabout place it just south and west of the curve, meaning the Merkels' culvert stays in place. 

Their concern is that the Montana Department of Transportation plans to raise the roadbed under the new roundabout by a couple feet. The culvert that runs off their property and under the curve will meet a berm of gravel where the new roadbed will be built up. They worry the water won't have anywhere to go. 

"I'm just nervous," Nancy Merkel said. 

Spalding explained that the water in the area was a big concern for designers, which is why they plan to raise the roadbed. Under the roundabout itself, MDT crews will run a large culvert to help with drainage. 

Steve Torpey, who's lived in Billings for four years, is skeptical of roundabouts. What motivated him to show up to the open house was to propose a better use of the curve where Rimrock turns into 62nd. 

The curve in the road would be removed, leaving only a dirt path. Torpey said MDT should continue with its plan to build the roundabout but keep the curve and turn it into a one-way road, allowing traffic driving west from Billings to continue north onto 62nd Street without stopping. It would be a kind of bypass for motorists traveling out of Billings, he said. 

Rimrock Rd roundabout

Kirk Spalding of Sanderson Stewart, left, talks with Falcon Ridge resident Bill Lynch during an open house to discuss a proposed roundabout at 62nd Street West and Rimrock Road at Sanderson Stewart on Wednesday.

Spalding liked the feedback. He said the problem with converting the curve into a one-way road is that it doesn't completely eliminate the problem they set out to solve. The roundabout would reduce the three intersections along a relatively short stretch of road to one, which, in turn, would reduce injury wrecks in the area by 75% and fatal wrecks by 90%. 

"It's probably the single best option we have," he said. 

Once MDT has gathered all the public comment, it will produce a feasibility report on the project and potentially move into the design phase by early next year. 

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