It has been there for as long as most can remember, but now it has a more attractive appeal. It's the Amherst traffic circle at the intersection of Route 60 and Route 29 Business in Virginia. An 850-gal basin water fountain was installed in the center of the traffic circle on June 28 thanks to the cooperative efforts of the Village Garden Club and the Town of Amherst.
The Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT) Amherst traffic circle was designed in 1936 by W.M. Jeffries, an engineer who was years ahead of his time.
"According to our records, the Amherst traffic circle pre-dates the official modern roundabout in this country by more than 50 years," said Walter Pribble, VDOT senior transportation planner. "The first modern roundabout in the U.S. was constructed in Nevada in 1990."
VDOT has begun using the modern roundabout more often to enhance safety and reduce delays for motorists. There are nine roundabouts in Virginia, but 25 additional roundabouts have recently been approved by VDOT's Roundabout Committee. These are awaiting funding or are in various stages of development.
"The roundabout is one of the tools in VDOT's tool box for moving traffic safely," Pribble said. "It is not appropriate for all locations, but it will save lives when designed properly."
According to March 2000 statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there was a 39% crash reduction in places where roundabouts were installed in the U.S. There was a 76% reduction in injury crashes and an 89% reduction in fatal and incapacitating crashes. Statistics have not been compiled for Virginia.
Roundabouts have environmental and financial benefits as well. Constructing roundabouts in place of traffic signals can reduce fuel consumption by about 30%. The insurance institute studied 10 intersections in northern Virginia where signals were recently installed, and found that roundabouts in these locations would save 200,000 gal of fuel per year.