City rejects Claflin circle

By Bryan Richardson

The Manhattan City Commission rejected a federal safety grant Tuesday for a roundabout at the Westport Drive and Claflin Road intersection.

The commission rejected the grant 4-1 in part because the estimated $2 million roundabout isn’t what the city requested in the grant application sent to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

After exploring a number of options, including a roundabout, the city proposed signals at both intersections at Browning Avenue/ Claflin Road and Claflin Road/Westport Drive.

KDOT, the department that the federal funds would have gone through, instead proposed a roundabout at Westport and Claflin and not allowing left turns from Browning onto Claflin.

KDOT made the conclusion that the cost-benefit ratio of the city’s proposal would not be positive.

City administrators recommended accepting the grant, but commissioners had concerns about going forward with a roundabout.

“If (city staff) thought a traffic light would be better, I can’t believe that you didn’t say, ‘Well geez, maybe there’s gonna be more rear end collisions,’” commissioner Mike Dodson said.

Commissioner Wynn Butler said he supports roundabouts if they’re big enough, but it would be too small at this intersection.
He said a concept that overlaid the Fourth Street and Bluemont Avenue roundabout over the Westport/Claflin intersection showed it’s bigger than the current intersection.
“You can’t make it big enough for it to be effective,” Butler said.

If the commission accepted the grant, the city would have paid $200,000 of the estimated $2 million project with the grant covering the rest based on a 90/10 split.

However, the city could have been on the hook for up to $750,000 total when including the design, inspection and easement acquisition costs.

“It’s a huge imposition on us financially and probably a bigger headache in the long run if we feel like it didn’t work,” Mayor Usha Reddi said.

Commissioner Karen McCulloh represented the lone vote against rejecting the grant.

She said she wanted to use KDOT’s recommendation of a roundabout.

“Sometimes we don’t listen to the experts as much as perhaps we should,” she said. “This is what they do for a living. They try to find safe ways to get people from Point A to Point B.”

The city explored a safety grant because the Westport and Claflin and Browning Avenue and Claflin intersections have been a trouble spot for the city.

City officials said combining the two intersections makes the area the second highest number of accidents in the city with 37 crashes in a three-year period, or an average of 12.3 crashes per year.
City engineer Brian Johnson said the Fourth and Bluemont roundabout averages 53 accidents per year, but it carries more traffic.

“Fourth and Bluemont has 27,000 vehicles a day navigating through that intersection,” he said. “This has 7,000. The accident ratio at Fourth and Bluemont is about 1.8 crashes per million vehicles. This one is about 3.71.”

City officials will now do further analysis on the intersections to find other possible solutions.

Johnson said the city can’t eliminate accidents, but accidents can be mitigated.

“I don’t think there’s one magic bullet that’s going to fix everything,” he said. “We’re going to trade sideswipes for T-bones or rear ends. There’s going to be a give and take as far as the design goes.”

Commissioner Linda Morse said the city has to develop a solution to the issue.

“We can’t kick the can down the road,” she said. “We have to stop and take the best look at it we can.”

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