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Saturday, September 21, 2013
A Sept. 6 Roanoke Times news story (“State seeks forced sale of truck stop”) included a map entitled “I-81, Exit 150 VDOT plan.” The illustration depicted roads and many arrows (23, including the one pointing out the direction of the North Pole) indicating traffic flow for a proposed redesign of the access points for Interstate 81 in Troutville. It was very complicated.
In addition to the arrows, the map highlighted specific important locations with labels stating “Improved Traffic Light,” “New Traffic Light,” “Travel Centers of America,” “Roundabout,” “New road,” “Ramp to Close” and “Cracker Barrel.” I do not know why it was important to point out the location of the Cracker Barrel, but if I were the proprietor of the nearby Waffle House, I might demand a label of my own.
The article itself contained fascinating details about how the Virginia Department of Transportation has acquired a truck stop run by Travel Centers of America. VDOT claimed it from an entity called Hospitality Properties Trust by filing a “certificate of take” document and placing $6.28 million on deposit. The final financial terms apparently will be worked out at an eminent domain hearing at a later date.
I am considering filing a similar document with my neighbor in order to take possession of his new putter, which is working way too well for him.
I am sure VDOT, TA and HPT will work everything out. What received my attention was the orange circle on the map labeled “Roundabout,” located at the Exit 150 intersection of U.S. 11 and the northbound ramps of I-81.
My wife has taken to calling the proposed intersection a traffic circle, but after extensive research on Wikipedia, I have discovered “roundabout” is the more accurate description. Since I have finally reached the enlightened stage of our relationship, though, I chose not to describe to her the differences between a roundabout, traffic circle and rotary. All she wanted to know is if 18-wheelers will be banned from using this proposed improvement to the flow of our traffic.
It turns out, I am a fan of roundabouts (or whatever we choose to call them) because the rules are simple and fun. You just turn right and keep moving. If you cannot decide where to exit, you just keep driving around the circle. I know because I have done just that.
Once, in Milan, Italy, I was trying to find my way out of the city in order to get to Turin for a meeting when I came upon a massive rotary (not a roundabout, but similar) loaded with circulating, honking vehicles. The sultry voice coming from the GPS unit in my car helpfully informed me, “prendere la prossima uscita a destra.” Since I could not translate that quickly, I just kept going around the circle until I was able to process the instructions.
Also, following the turning right custom does not work everywhere. For example, in Auckland, New Zealand, motorists drive on the opposite side of the road than we do. This fact was momentarily forgotten by the person driving the car I was in several years ago. We did not forget to keep moving, however. Fortunately, we were not sharing the circle with any other vehicles at that hair-raising moment.
The proposed roundabout will be the first in Botetourt County and, as far as I can determine, there is only one in Roanoke, though Roanoke County has two. Northern Virginia has plenty of them, but as we know, that is a whole different unsweetened tea world up there. Washington, D.C., is loaded with circular intersections, as is Hamburg, N.Y., outside of Buffalo, where my wife grew up. Several weeks ago, we experienced all of Hamburg’s roundabouts while visiting her family there.
I am worried the culture here in Southwest Virginia will resist the implementation of this progressive modification to our local traffic flow. After all, this is where using the turn signal remains a notional concept, and any change from the norm brings out the conspiracy theorists. However, construction is not scheduled to start until 2015, so there is plenty of time to roll out educational information regarding roundabout etiquette and to gain acceptance within the general population.
It would have been helpful if the map had added one more arrow, indicating the counterclockwise traffic flow in the roundabout. But, I guess we will just have to remember to turn right and keep moving, unless we find ourselves driving in New Zealand.
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