Chowchilla eyes roundabout for Highway 99 ramps

Cars cross the bridge that sends traffic from Highway 233 in Chowchilla over Highway 99 on Tuesday. The city is looking at its options for improvements needed on that bridge including one plan that would use roundabouts. |

Rehere are looking at options for improvements the city needs in the near future where highways 99 and 233 cross, and the state Department of Transportation is pushing for roundabouts.

There are a number of options for dealing with the increased traffic projected in coming years by Caltrans on that bridge, which takes Highway 233, also called Robertson Boulevard, over 99.

The city could use loops, traffic signals and slip ramps to accommodate the traffic, but the biggest issue is funding. The options range in cost from $4 million to $70 million, but the cheaper the project the shorter its lifespan of usefulness, official say.

City councilmembers watched a presentation Tuesday from Caltrans that focused primarily on why the city should consider roundabouts for the northbound and southbound ramps. The presentation was for informational purposes only and the council cast no votes related to the project.

John Liu, deputy district director of maintenance and operations, recommended the city choose the $10 million roundabout plan. That design would be good for 15 years.

$10 million

The cost for two roundabouts in Chowchilla

Liu said if the city decided to go with roundabouts, he’d pitch in $200,000 per traffic circle from his department’s discretionary funds. If the city picked “any of the other alternatives, somebody’s going to have to come up with the rest of the money,” he said.

Chowchilla’s roundabouts, if adopted by the city, would go on the east and west sides of Highway 99 generally where the on and off ramps sit now. But, there would likely be some change to the existing lanes with the potential to affect businesses there, according to the presentation.

Roundabouts have a number of benefits, including improved safety and less maintenance than traditional intersections. Roundabouts reduce the number of fatal accidents by 90 percent and all accidents by 35 percent, according to numbers from a report the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.

Cars using roundabouts are moving slower than those entering an intersection, Liu said. Accidents are much more likely to involve glancing collisions rather than more deadly head-on or T-bone collisions, he said.

Caltrans is working on plans for 18 roundabouts on highways around the state, and could add 15 more in the future. Getting those plans to come to fruition might take some convincing.

Councilman Dennis Haworth said his knee-jerk reaction is to be against roundabouts for Chowchilla. “I wasn’t born in France or England,” he said. “I don’t like roundabouts.”


Councilman Dennis Haworth

He said he’s visited other towns to check out their roundabouts. There is more potential for one to work in Chowchilla on the east side of 99, he said.

One Chowchilla resident was skeptical about the idea.

Vern Moss, a former Chowchilla mayor and Madera County supervisor, said he was worried that the roundabout would affect businesses just off of the highway, like “landmark” Farnesi’s Steakhouse.

“It does create concern,” he said.

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