The prospect of a series of roundabouts along Shiloh Road dominated an informational meeting about the road's $20 million reconstruction project Tuesday night.
With traffic on the heavily traveled corridor expected to triple over the next 20 years, planners and engineers are considering developing as many as 11 roundabouts at intersections between the Canyon Creek Bridge to the south and Grand Avenue to the north.
They say roundabouts are safer, more efficient and less costly than conventional intersections with stoplights. But skepticism remained high among an estimated 60 members of the West End Neighborhood Task Force who gathered Tuesday night to hear an update about the plans.
"No way — forget about it!" one red-faced critic shouted early in the presentation.
Others waited their turn to complain that the roundabouts would confuse drivers and contribute to congestion. They also worried drivers would ignore yield signs and speed through the interchanges.
"People don't even know how to use a four-way stop around here," said Edna Shult.
Brooke Flynn announced she would be soliciting signatures for petitions opposing the roundabouts, prompting several others to pledge their support after the meeting.
Project engineer Kirk Spalding, of Engineering Inc., said roundabouts earned a similarly chilly reception when they first arrived in other cities. With time, he said, residents became comfortable with the interchanges and grew to appreciate their safety and efficiency.
Roundabouts allow one-way traffic to flow around a central island without using a traffic light. Motorists must yield before entering, and then use one of two lanes. In the right lane, vehicles may turn right, go straight or perform a U-turn. In the left lane, vehicles either turn left or go straight.
Speed limits at roundabouts are usually restricted to 25 mph or less, and studies have shown dramatic decreases in fatalities and serious injury accidents at intersections that switched to roundabouts from signalized controls, as well as a reduction in delays, Spalding said.
Bruce Barrett, Billings area administrator for the Montana Department of Transportation, told the crowd that a roundabout due to be built outside the Billings Logan International Airport by 2008 would introduce motorists to the concept long before any would be developed on Shiloh Road.
The MDT is still far from a decision on whether to use signalized intersections or roundabouts in the project. The agency will not make its recommendation until late 2006 or early 2007, and even then there will be a public comment period to consider feedback from residents, Barrett said.
Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy urged attendees to think of the congestion along King Avenue on Saturdays and Sundays and consider the option carefully.
"We've got to be open-minded enough to look at it," he said.
Intersections selected for overhaul are at Hesper Road, Zoo Drive, King Avenue, Monad Road, Central Avenue, Broadwater Avenue and Grand Avenue. Four additional intersections are also being studied: at the entrance of the JTL Group gravel pits north of Hesper Road; at Montana Sapphire Drive, just south of King Avenue; at Howard Avenue, between Broadwater Avenue and Central Avenue; and at an area bound for heavy development between Grand Avenue and Broadwater Avenue.
Another informational meeting will be held in August, at a yet-unannounced location and date.