$35 million roundabout project explained to concerned citizens

By Chris Hagan
Review Staff Writer
The long-awaited changes are coming to Baldwin Rd.
On Wednesday, June 15 the Road Commission of Oakland County (RCOC) hosted the latest in a series of informational meetings open to the public detailing the changes coming to Baldwin Road next year.
Laid out on long tables inside Waldon Middle School were detailed and engineering renderings of exactly how and where the roundabouts would be located and the properties they’d be occupying. On hand were several officials from the Road Commission of Oakland County (RCOC) and OHM Architects, Engineers and Planners to answer questions about the project which will implement five multi-lane roundabouts along Baldwin Road between 2017-2018.
“We know what the details of the project are going to be and we wanted to share that with the public, get their input, answer their questions, give them some educational opportunities,” Director of Engineering for RCOC Tom Blust said.
Blust and Vice Chairman for RCOC, Eric Wilson answered questions from the public that ranged from safety concerns, projected length of constructions, and the overall decision to go with roundabouts on Baldwin Road. Blust said through public meetings over the past several years it was determined by the public that a narrow boulevard was the preferred roadway.
In order to keep the roadway narrow but still allow for semi-truck traffic it wasn’t possible to go with a roadway similar to the M-24 corridor project. In its place Blust said the next option was a roundabout corridor and according to Blust, the roundabouts are a better option across the board.
“We take safety extremely seriously, with the roundabouts, the typical roundabout reduces crashes, particularly serious injury crashes, by over 75 percent and fatality and debilitating crashes by over 90 percent,” he said. “They do all that while handling more traffic than our most intelligent traffic systems that use cameras and our computers.”
Blust and engineers from OHM said due to the complexity of the project and the time needed in securing property acquisition, the roundabout project will be split into two phases. Phase one will take place in 2017 and will include the road resurfacing, construction of a U-turn near Morgan Road, five lane road construction and two roundabouts at Judah and Gregory Roads.
Phase two will add a four-lane boulevard and complete the roundabout project adding three more starting in front of Great Lakes Athletic Club, then Maybee Road, and the last one at Waldon Road.
Each roundabout will have cross walks using what is known as High-intensity Activated crossWalK beacon (HAWK).
According to RCOC, HAWK beacons are typically used in multi-lane roundabouts. The HAWK beacons are configured with two red lights next to each other above one yellow light. When pressed by a pedestrian, the yellow light will flash alerting drivers that a pedestrian is looking to cross and that’s followed by a solid red double light indicating drivers must stop.
Oxford resident Jerry Maddox was expecting the roundabout project to be a disaster but after talking with engineers and members from RCOC his attitude changed a bit. Maddox still had concerns of the decision to make the roundabouts multiple lanes citing the difficulties drivers may have switching lanes or multiple vehicles entering into the roundabout.
“That’s the main thing I came here for is that people seem to obey the rules pretty well and as long as they do that it’ll work but it’ll really slow things down if they have to play that game of switching lanes,” he said. “There’s a significant cut down on serious accidents because you go slower through the roundabouts so the collisions will be at slower speeds but I still think it’ll be hell to pay to make a left hand turn on any one of these.”
The approximately $35 million project is funded with a mix of federal and local dollars. Local funding is shared by RCOC, Orion Township and Oakland County general government through the Tri-Party Program.
Twenty-two-year Orion resident Sue Enjaian isn’t looking forward to the construction phase of it but she said she’s looking forward to the traffic moving faster than its current pace. Coming to Wednesday’s meeting allowed her to visualize the project and get an understanding of its layout.
“I think it may be a good solution and it makes sense the way that they’re developing it because of the properties along the road they can’t widen it down the road with the boulevards,” she said.
Long time Orion resident and pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church, Father Joe Dailey, said he understands people might not have the strongest understanding of roundabouts but with repetition, they’ll get used to them rather quick.
“It’s a lot better than sitting in traffic waiting for someone to make a turn,” Dailey said. “Hopefully people will learn how to drive in them but it’s really a better flow of traffic and it’s much easier when you don’t have the traffic lights and it’ll be free flowing.”
Fee Christoph, 17, has only been driving for a year but she’s looking forward to the project. Christoph said she travels Baldwin Road everyday and when everyone is coming home from work the road can become extremely congested.
She said she did some research on her own and thinks the roundabouts – once construction is finished – will help the traffic issue on Baldwin.
“They decrease emissions because they get people moving faster, and any accidents inside the roundabouts aren’t as severe,” she said. “I think this way it’ll allow for traffic to get where it needs to go faster and it’ll be easy to manage and navigate once you learn how it works.”
According to the schedule from MDOT, the current M-24 construction project should wrap up completely at the end of 2016 meaning neither project will overlap.
ROCC’s Wilson believes the Baldwin project is a long time coming for the township.
“The citizens of Orion have been waiting for this development for 30, 40, 50 years and to see it come to fruition is really going to be a joy,” he said. “Now it’s going to be an aggravation and I apologize for the delay the people will have for the next several years but when it’s done it’s going to be nice, smooth roads that we can drive down and it’ll be a walkable community.”
Any questions residents may have about the project can call RCOC at 248-858-4804 or visit rcocweb.org.