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Lorraine Road/Players Drive roundabout makes no sense

SMR's Rex Jensen gives his view of the Manatee County roundabout project scheduled for Lorraine Road and Players Drive.

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  • | 8:00 a.m. September 27, 2023
  • East County
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Ordinarily, I try to stay out of the spotlight, but I am compelled to speak out in this matter. I have planned, designed, and built more traffic improvements than anyone in Manatee County, including the county itself.

I know what I am talking about. In most cases, I have grown to favor roundabouts over signalized intersections as they are best geared to keeping traffic moving in a variety of settings from low to moderately high volumes. However, in the case of the Lorraine Road/Players Drive intersection, common sense and unique “non-automotive” traffic considerations argue very heavily in favor of a signalized intersection.

I am asking (the county) to reject the roundabout here and return to the previously planned signalized intersection.

I haven’t had a chance to closely study the design as it has never been shared with me, but it doesn’t appear standard at first glance. From the (illustration) in the Observer, this roundabout seems very tight as roundabouts go. It looks like it was designed to generally stay within the existing right of way when a normal design might not be able to do so.

So, I must ask, “Are we ending up with a camel when we should be buying a horse?” Or are we putting a square peg in a round hole?

The radius of the circle seems quite tight and the east and westbound movements lose a lane in each direction. This is at the main entrance to Country Club East and this entrance is heavily used at times. Common sense tells me that this loss of capacity in such a location might not be the wisest idea. Also, if this really is an out of the ordinary design? Why is that a good idea?

A signal is more favorable at this location due to unique community/intersection dynamics.

First, there is a bus stop on the west side on Players. Second, Lakewood Ranch is a very active pedestrian and bicycling community. There is particularly intense bicycle traffic in this location. I fear that the tight design of this roundabout might not cleanly sort out bicycle and automotive traffic as well as the previously planned and designed signal.

There is also an additional non-automotive traffic component uniquely present at this intersection — golf carts. Our club has over 2,000 individual golfing members (1,050 golfing memberships normally consisting of couples). They cross at this intersection in an east/west direction conflicting with the heavier north/south movement on Lorraine Road. The courses on two sides of Lorraine are in a single club, not two separate clubs. The chicken must cross the road at some location, and this is the most suitable location.

 A roundabout by design and intent is geared to keep automotive traffic moving at some pace, and normally this is a good idea. The thinking of drivers is to “keep moving” when you are in a roundabout. It becomes a bad idea when you combine the “keep on truckin” mindset with heavier than normal non-automotive traffic going in a direction that crosses the main automotive movement. That’s when you are better off with traffic actually stopping, rather than slowing down or pausing.

Yes, “yield to pedestrians” is the law, but it doesn’t always happen. Bicycle and golf cart traffic can find its way into the path of a car faster than lighted cross walks and driver reaction time can combine to avert tragedy. A signal would be better in this location.

 Lorraine Road is an arterial road which is otherwise entirely signalized from State Road to University Parkway. It will be signalized all the way to Fruitville as traffic signal warrants are met. There is no overwhelming reason to make this intersection any different.

You can yack all you want about the virtues of roundabouts and the way they keep traffic moving to some degree. However, when the only intersection in eight miles that gives you this wonderful benefit is a roundabout, what are you really gaining? We would be much better off with smart signals and light synchronization on this road to maximize performance on the entire road, not just in a limited location.

A roundabout does not have the benefits of noise and pollution reduction that proponents claim. Truck traffic must slow down at all four approaches in a roundabout to negotiate the circle and speed up in the straightaway and this makes noise both times. There is no escaping this. It is a matter of simple physics. A stop signal, especially one with smart technology is weighted in favor of the predominant movement and therefore most of the time truck traffic need not slowdown and speed up. Maintaining a constant speed reduces noise and everyone knows that.

News reports show the cost of a roundabout (as designed) costing about $2.1 million. The budget for a signalized intersection was $1.7 million. The roundabout in this location brings nothing to the table that would justify an increased price tag. Spend the extra $400,000 somewhere else and put up traffic signals. There are plenty of needs. (Our commissioners) all ran, and were elected, on a program of fiscal conservatism. With no significant additional benefit being given by the more expensive alternative, how can you justify the greater expense? 

The traffic signal approach was well studied, well documented, and well publicized. The roundabout was a “midnight sneak in” by a commissioner known for such tactics without thorough consideration of consequences. This alternative wasn’t studied and there was no serious community input sought. SMR was not consulted with even a phone call, and candidly, I’m not totally happy with that. The unique conditions of this intersection outlined above were not considered.

Overall, the roundabout process is highly flawed as the normal improvement process goes. A roundabout does not fit at this intersection as well as a signalized intersection. A few “informational meetings” won’t make up for these deficiencies. Putting a pig in a tuxedo doesn’t make it “not a pig.” The roundabout should be scrapped in favor of the less expensive and more effective signalized intersection.


Rex E. Jensen is president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc.