Morgantown adjusts to traveling the roundabout - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Morgantown adjusts to traveling the roundabout

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Jimmy’s Sunoco on Mileground Road is 50 yards from the new roundabout in Morgantown. Jimmy’s Sunoco on Mileground Road is 50 yards from the new roundabout in Morgantown.
Touchdown City Pre Owned Autos enjoyed fronting a well-traveled main road before the W.Va. Department of Transportation built a roundabout on the Mileground in Morgantown and diverted traffic from in front of the 7-year-old business. Touchdown City Pre Owned Autos enjoyed fronting a well-traveled main road before the W.Va. Department of Transportation built a roundabout on the Mileground in Morgantown and diverted traffic from in front of the 7-year-old business.
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By CYNTHIA McCLOUD
For The State Journal

The busiest roundabout in West Virginia opened June 26 in Morgantown where W.Va. 705 converges with the stretch of U.S. 119 called The Mileground.

It has seen the start of classes at West Virginia University, when Morgantown's population increases by 25,000 college students. And it has seen the start of WVU home football games and the traffic created by more than 60,000 fans traveling to and from Mountaineer Field.

It has alleviated congestion in a heavily traveled part of Monongalia County, authorities say. But it has devastated the business of at least two Mileground stores, according to their owners.

Mileground Road, also known as U.S. 119, which becomes Willey Street and leads into Morgantown's downtown, and W.Va. 705 previously intersected at a traffic light, resulting in jams and slowdowns, especially during weekday afternoons and on Mountaineer home football game days.

An average 29,650 vehicles pass through the interchange each day, according to the West Virginia Department of Transportation.

Continual flow of traffic

"We do not have specific stats for individual days, but traffic does increase during WVU game days," said Carrie Bly, communications specialist for the WVDOT. "In general, roundabouts are safer because they keep traffic moving at a slower pace." 

The roundabout relieves congestion by allowing a continual flow of traffic, she said.

"We have had a few accidents in the roundabout, but not very many," said Jimmy Smith, deputy director of MECCA 911. "I would say that the accident rate at that intersection has stayed about the same.

"We have noticed that the traffic does flow well now through the roundabout, and we're not seeing the backups on 705 that we used to. I believe that it's doing the job it was intended to and as time goes on people are becoming more and more comfortable with the roundabout."

‘Roundabout has devastated us'

When construction was finished and the roundabout opened, traffic in and out of some businesses on the Mileground didn't pick back up. Some customers continue to avoid stores in the area of the roundabout.

"This roundabout has devastated us," said Mike Gazsi, owner of No. 1 Touchdown City Pre Owned Autos. "We were on the front line of all this construction work."

Seven years ago, Touchdown City Pre Owned opened in a location directly fronting the Mileground. Motorists on W.Va. 705 stopped at the light waiting to turn north onto U.S. 119 faced the car lot.

Now, motorists entering the roundabout from 705 can barely see Touchdown City beyond a grassy hill of soil left from construction. Traffic coming from downtown Morgantown bears to the left at the corner of Touchdown City's lot. Drivers approaching from other directions have to cross as many as three lanes of traffic if they want to turn left into the used car lot.

"I used to sell 20 to 30 cars a month," Gazsi said. "I sold six cars last month."

Gazsi pointed out the support businesses – mechanics and detailers – to which he used to pass along business, including Jimmy's Sunoco, a service station a couple of doors down.

"We used to inspect three, four cars a day for him," said Mike Corrado, co-owner of Jimmy's. "Now we get three, four cars a week. It's hurt him and it's hurt us, too.

"When this roundabout was under construction, our business was seriously curtailed because people were avoiding this place like the plague," Corrado said. "Now that it's in operation, our business has not built back up to where it was prior to the beginning of construction. I don't know if it's going to happen."

His father opened Jimmy's Sunoco at that location in 1956, and it has built a reputation. Nonetheless, some customers can't overcome their apprehension toward the new traffic pattern.

"The roundabout is 50 yards away from our location and traffic moves around it speedily," Corrado said. "Unless you're up to come to Jimmy's Sunoco, you're probably not going to stop here. In a business like ours, location is important. Even though we haven't moved, the location has changed in the public's mind."

He said it's actually easier to get in and out of his business now that traffic doesn't back up in front of it.

"I agree this roundabout does expedite this traffic," Corrado said, citing a "Mythbusters" episode he watched that found roundabouts were 40 percent more efficient than the next most efficient intersection they studied.

Corrado added that he is so comfortable driving in the roundabout that he has taken people through it in his car to show them how simple it is to navigate.

He said when the public becomes more comfortable negotiating the new traffic pattern, business might pick up. 

While they watch to see if that happens, Corrado and his brother will retire there.

But not Gazsi, who is looking to move his car lot to a new location. He said he has obtained an attorney to seek compensation from the state for the business losses he has suffered. 

Adapting to change

Dr. Raymond Hearn, whose chiropractic office is located almost at the opposite end of the Mileground, closer to the Morgantown Municipal Airport, said his patients complained loudly at first, but now they seldom mention the roundabout.

"I've heard pros and cons," Hearn said. "Some of my patients work at Mylan Pharmaceuticals on (Chestnut Ridge Road) and they say it's so much quicker now for them to come this way now that there's not a stop light so traffic doesn't get backed up.

"But elderly patients, they don't care for it too much," Hearn said. "They're adapting to the change. If they're leery of the roundabout, they take a different route, such as up Hartman Run Road."

Bly said the WVDOT is also hearing fewer complaints about area traffic.

"It appears that the community has also accepted the traffic pattern change," she said. "Many were concerned and hesitant before the roundabout opened."