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Public meeting addresses traffic circle at Five Points

Plans to create a roundabout traffic circle at the Five Points intersection of State Route 81, State Route 353 and Depot Street moved one step closer to reality following an informational public meeting conducted by the Tennessee Department of Transportation on March 14 in Jonesborough.
A near capacity crowd attended the meeting at the International Storytelling Center, which included an overview of the project as well as a question-and-answer session.
The project has been controversial, as it requires the demolition of a long-standing business, Five Point Grocery. Owner Kelly Street, who has been an outspoken critic of the plan in the past, was in attendance but remained silent during the hour-long meeting.
Even though Street has been in favor of safety improvements at the intersection, she preferred a traffic signal over a traffic circle.
“A lot of people wanted a stoplight, but the town didn’t want that because they would have to pay for it. So now, we’re getting a traffic circle,” she said. “At least TDOT’s getting me out of this old crappy town and I don’t have to deal with the Town of Jonesborough anymore.”
Saying the roundabout is “absolutely safer” than a traffic light at the Five Points intersection, Steve Allen, TDOT project planning director, added that studies show there are fewer severe crashes using that type of intersection design. The absence of traffic signals keep traffic moving during slow times, Allen said.
The main drawback, he said, is the public’s unfamiliarity with using roundabouts, an issue he said can be addressed by using plenty of well-placed signage.
TDOT has already completed four of the five steps necessary to begin construction on the roundabout and could call for bids as early as late April.
“The bid letting could come in June and we could award the bid within four to six weeks,” said Randy Busler, assistant regional construction supervisor for TDOT. “We may even work toward getting that expedited so we can get started as soon as possible.”
That would put construction starting in late summer, Busler said.
Concerns that the beginning of the work would coincide with the beginning of the school year are something Busler said will be addressed.
The heaviest amount of traffic at the intersection comes from students and faculty traveling to and from David Crockett High School on State Route 34.
“We will meet with school leaders pre-construction,” Busler said. “We’ll have to get a lot of notification at the school and additional signage, including portable message signs. We will also need a lot of help from law enforcement.”
TDOT officials plan to conduct classes at Crockett to teach people how to safely use a roundabout.
“We haven’t collaborated with TDOT on this yet, but we’re familiar with the basics from what has been published,” said Ron Dykes, director of schools.
A traffic safety class developed by the Tennessee Department of Safety, “Between the Barrels,” already being taught at the high schools should help, Dykes said. One of the things the class teaches young drivers is how to navigate construction zones.
Construction is expected to last six to eight months. During that time, the intersection will be temporarily signalized, Busler said. Depot Street will be closed and traffic will be detoured onto Highway 81 South.