SOLEDAD — The City of Soledad has closed off the intersection of Metz Road and East Street beginning April 5 for the construction of a new roundabout.
Construction is expected to take two months for the project.
Those heading toward Metz will take a detour route along Monterey Street to Third Street before rejoining Metz. Those going north along East Street will be diverted to Main Street to Ticino Street, then back onto East Street.
The city chose those detours based on the lack of parallel through streets, which can also support truck traffic.
Oscar Antillon, the city’s Public Works director, said the process has been almost a decade in the making as the city has considered the growing number of homes out toward the Orchard Street area and the need for traffic mitigation.
After collaboration with the Transportation Agency for Monterey County and the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control, a roundabout at the Metz-East intersection was determined to be a needed project.
“Roundabouts reduce the idle time in cars so you don’t stop and idle, and that reduces the emissions,” Antillon said.
The move toward air pollution control meant the city was able to obtain a $130,000 grant in 2019.
The total cost for the project is $1.2 million, which includes the design, construction and needed property acquisitions.
Because roundabouts are more expansive than a basic intersection, the city needed more land than is currently used by the existing streets. That meant an easement from the nearby funeral home of a small piece of land and the $85,000 purchase of a lot next to the current intersection.
Antillon said even with those costs included, it went below the city’s original estimates of upwards of $1.6 million for just the construction.
The Don Chapin Company Inc. placed the bid for construction at $959,000, bringing down the overall cost for the project.
The roundabout will work by having approaching cars slow down to turn into a loop around a center island rather than come to a stop. Because all cars move around the loop to get through the intersection, motorists will simply yield to each other as they enter or leave the loop, rather than cross each other’s path as happens in a normal intersection.
“I’ve always found when you’re getting your first roundabout, everyone complains, and then when it’s done, all the complaints go away because they think this is the coolest thing ever,” said Brent Slama, Soledad’s city manager.
The method of moving through the intersection might be confusing to motorists at first, who are used to stopping and traveling in a straight line or 90-degree turn.
Although the roundabout is an intensive process that already took the moving of poles, and certainly takes longer than using traffic lights, Slama said it would result in an overall increase to safety.
The reduced speed means decreased severity of accidents and higher safety for pedestrians crossing through the area, which is a high-traffic spot for both cars and children headed to nearby schools.
Antillon said average speeds through the roundabout would be between 10 and 15 miles per hour.
“You do slow down a little, but you don’t stop,” he said. “… Studies show a roundabout reduces 90% of the fatal traffic accidents. For pedestrian safety, it reduces collisions up to 40%.”
Antillon explained the reasons for collision severity decreasing as the lack of head-on or T-bone style accidents. Any collision that could take place would be a swipe from the side at a lower speed, where the motorists are moving in the same direction.
“This doesn’t mean it’s right for every intersection,” Slama said, noting only the most congested of spots warrant such a change. “For this intersection, because it’s not exactly a square, it makes a lot of sense.”
While Antillon would like to see more roundabouts in the city, especially one somewhere along San Vicente Road, he said such projects take time and there are none currently planned by the city.