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More roundabouts considered for area

Eileen JoyceThe roundabout at Sierra College Drive is currently the only roundabout in the Grass Valley/Nevada City area.
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Two roundabouts could be built by 2004 in western Nevada County at the intersection of Idaho Maryland Road and East Main Street in Grass Valley, and at Gold Flat Road in Nevada City.

The Grass Valley City Council recently endorsed the concept of a roundabout at the Idaho Maryland-East Main intersection.

Caltrans engineers are studying construction of a roundabout for Gold Flat Road near the Highway 49 offramp to improve traffic flow.



Caltrans and Nevada County Transportation Commission officials, city officials and others have discussed roundabouts for six other intersections – five in Grass Valley and one in Nevada City – although none of them are planned for the near future.

Roundabouts have become popular because they are safer and more efficient than intersections with traffic lights, said Leif Ourston, an engineer based in Santa Barbara who was asked to look at the Nevada County Transportation Commission’s preliminary study of the Idaho Maryland-East Main roundabout.




Ourston, who built America’s first two modern roundabouts in Las Vegas in 1990, is designing roundabouts in San Diego County, Santa Cruz, Castaic, Truckee, the Los Angeles area and Colorado.

California has a dozen roundabouts, and the rest of the country has 300, he said. Their cost is anywhere from $100,000 to $5 million, he said.

“That’s all I do,” Ourston said, “and I am very busy.”

Unlike historic traffic circles, roundabouts are designed with modern engineering guidelines, he said. “The (traffic circles) in Europe are giving roundabouts a bad name,” he said.

Dan Landon, executive director for Nevada County Transportation, said the traffic implications have to be understood before roundabouts are built.

To that end, he and city officials recently met with business owners who work near the Idaho Maryland-East Main intersection.

Blair Brooksby, owner of Motor Electric Service Co., said he is concerned parking in front of his store will be eliminated. That, he said, could shut him down.

A traffic signal would not work for that intersection because the Golden Center Freeway cannot handle a slew of cars entering the freeway all at once, Caltrans officials have repeatedly said.

Grass Valley’s first roundabout was built at Sierra College Drive in 1999.

“It seems to be OK,” said Capt. Jerod Johnson of the Grass Valley Police Department. “I don’t believe that we’ve had more than a couple of accidents at the roundabout.”

People have driven into the middle of the roundabout, and one person recently drove into a pole, but all were non-injury accidents, he said.


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