Practice course

A city of Denton truck driver makes a turn Wednesday at a roundabout practice location at the city’s Fleet Services facility on Texas Street.

Denton is about to get its first traffic roundabout in a major traffic corridor. City officials want to make sure motorists are prepared.

At the city’s Fleet Services facility on Texas Street, the setup looks sort of like an obstacle course. But instead, it’s a sign of things to come for Denton commuters, one which will have them driving in circles.

“There’s always skepticism with roundabouts,” said City Engineer Todd Estes. “It’s something a lot of people are not comfortable with.”

To change that, the city constructed a practice roundabout. City employees will use the site to get used to the changes. Jason Ballard, a 25-year veteran of the Denton Fire Department, drove his large ladder truck through the roundabout several times Friday.

“You don’t see many, at least in this part of the state,” said Ballard.

The first major roundabout will be at the busy intersection of Bonnie Brae and Scripture streets. The changes are part of a street widening project going from Interstate 35E to U.S. Highway 380. Construction is scheduled to begin next summer.

“It will be an education for the drivers here in town to learn the process of how to maneuver a roundabout,” said Ballard.

The city of Denton plans a big public education campaign leading up to the roundabout. The Texas Street setup is part of that, giving drivers the chance to experience the roundabout in a controlled environment.

“There’s not more cars coming up on you,” said Estes. “So you don’t have these outside influences where you’re not nervous about something new, plus you don’t have the sheer number of people.”

Whatever confusion may exist with roundabouts, traffic engineers say they make intersections safer. They tend to slow traffic, and they nearly eliminate the possibility of T-bone crashes because of the circular nature, which eliminates the angle of entry at a traditional intersection.

“I’m not worrying about, ‘Is this person turning left? Is that one going straight?’” said Estes.

“Just like any four-way stop, it’s a challenge to know, OK, who goes next?” added Ballard.

Challenges are always there with any traffic pattern change. The chance to practice could make it easier.

“You can come and try it, give us your feedback,” said Estes. “So we know where to improve. So we know where to do things better.”

SETH VOORHEES is the Denton County reporter for KXAS-TV (NBC5), which is a news partner of the Denton Record-Chronicle.

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