Construction of a highway roundabout in northwest Douglas County is underway.
Drivers often grumble about roundabouts. But the Nebraska Department of Transportation has found that they improve safety and has turned to them more often at accident-prone intersections.
That’s been the problem at the intersection of Nebraska Highways 31 and 36, 3½ miles west of Bennington and just outside the Douglas County landfill.
Between 2007 and 2016, crashes at the intersection injured 40 people and killed one person, and there were another 14 property damage accidents, according to the department.
Tim Weander, the Omaha area’s district engineer for the Department of Transportation, said in April that the highways have extensive heavy truck traffic. The roundabout will slow down traffic, he said.
“It actually reduces the number of crashes,” Weander said, “and it also reduces the severity.”
Bennington residents fought a different roundabout, which was planned for the main intersection in the town, in the early 2000s. City officials pulled back from that proposal.
Mayor Matt John said he hasn’t heard people strongly opposed to the highway roundabout, which is outside Bennington’s city limits.
“Something needs to be done there because it is dangerous,” John said.
The landfill’s owner also supports the project.
“We’re supportive of any measures that would improve the safety for all motorists,” said Lisa Disbrow, spokesperson for Waste Management of Nebraska.
The state built its first highway roundabout in Blair and has since added them in places such as near Oakland, Pleasant Dale and Winnebago. Others are planned for Fremont and Hastings, said Vicki Kramer, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation.
According to the department, the reduced speeds and fewer conflict points at a circular intersection cut injury accidents by 75% and fatal accidents by up to 90%.
The department pointed to documented safety improvements in Oakland and Pleasant Dale, which both experienced a decline in crashes, injuries and fatalities.
Outside Bennington, the intersection doesn’t qualify for a full traffic light, the department has said. Highway 31 has about 3,800 vehicles a day on average; Highway 36 just under 4,500. Those numbers are projected to grow by between 1,600 and 2,000 vehicles a day over the next couple of decades.
Near Bennington, contractor Constructors Inc. started work last week.
The project is expected to cost $3.7 million and includes reinforced concrete to accommodate the heavy trucks. The intersection will be open to traffic during construction.
Work is due to finish this fall.