Roundabouts are a regular topic of discussion in Glynn County government. Three new traffic circles are proposed for St. Simons Island, and Glynn County Commissioners have their reasons for supporting them.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has proposed a number of them on mainland Glynn County as well. GDOT gave a presentation to county commissioners on one proposed at the intersection of Ga. Highway 99 and U.S. Highway 17 last year.
David Adams and Christina Barry, GDOT representatives, told commissioners that roundabouts can reduce accidents by lowering the number of “conflict points,” at which an intersection has two or more lines of cross traffic. In a normal four-way intersection there are 32 conflict points, whereas a single-lane roundabout has only eight, they said.
On average, roundabouts can reduce fatal crashes by up to 90 percent and crashes resulting in serious injury by as much as 82 percent, they said. Circular intersections nearly eliminate the possibility for head-on and T-bone collisions, as well as those resulting from left turns.
Adams and Barry also pointed out roundabouts reduce gas consumption and can be beautified with landscaping or turned into gateways.
County commissioners are generally in favor of the roundabouts proposed for St. Simons Island at the intersection of East Beach Causeway and Demere Road, as well as East Beach Causeway and Ocean Boulevard. Some, though, are more skeptical of the one proposed for Frederica Road and Kings Way.
Commissioner Peter Murphy, whose district includes St. Simons, Jekyll and Sea islands, said he grew up with roundabouts, so he was familiar with them.
“Personally, I’m very used to them. The roundabout we have at Frederica and Demere has by far been a tremendous success. The traffic light that was there was painful,” Murphy said. “People may not be used to them, but the benefits outweigh many of the negatives.”
He did have some reservations, however.
“I don’t think they’re a solution to all intersections,” Murphy said. “I’ve heard others say we could solve many of the problems with traffic flow with roundabouts, but I don’t agree they are the solution to all of our traffic needs.”
He said he couldn’t support one that has been talked about for the intersection of Frederica Road and Sea Island Causeway, for example.
“The traffic volume coming off of Sea Island Causeway and the crossovers with traffic on Frederica Road looked exceedingly dangerous,” Murphy said.
District 1 Commissioner Mike Browning said he wasn’t against roundabouts.
“I was initially against it, but I have come around to think it’s not a bad idea,” Browning said. “I have come to appreciate what roundabouts can do when you don’t have a lot of other options.”
He said many concerns with them can be chalked up to drivers simply not being familiar with them or understanding how to navigate them.
“As far as moving traffic and decreasing accidents, roundabouts have proven they decrease accidents and keep the traffic moving, so I’m not against roundabouts where we might need them,” Browning said.
There were no intersections he could think of in his district, roughly north of Ga. 99 and east of U.S. Highway 341, that would benefit from one. that would be improved by a roundabout in his district. The intersection of U.S. 341 and Ga. Highway 303 could use some work, as well as the railroad crossing on 341 just north of its intersection with 303, but he didn’t think roundabouts were the answer.
While GDOT has, in the past, explained how large trucks would be accommodated in roundabouts on highways, Commissioner Richard Strickland said it still seems dangerous to have them in the same roundabouts as smaller personal vehicles.
“I have mixed feelings about them. I have some concerns about roundabouts that are on major highways where the speed limit is 55 miles and hour or so, like (Ga.) Highway 99 or the (Ga. 25) Spur,” Strickland said. “As far as St. Simons, they work great. I think they’ll really accommodate what’s needed to move traffic in an expedient and efficient way.”
He represents District 4, roughly between Ga. 99 and Chapel Crossing Road to the north and south, respectively, and between U.S. Highways 17 and U.S. 341 to the east and west. He said the intersection of Harry Driggers Boulevard, Canal Road and Glynco Parkway may benefit from one, but said that would be something an engineer would have to determine.
Commissioner Allen Booker of District 5 said he only uses roundabouts sparingly when on St. Simons Island, and is personally not a fan of them. He said he would likely get used to them, if he had to.
His district is mostly comprised of the city of Brunswick, over which the county commission has almost no control. Booker said he would support a roundabout in the city if it improved safety and was something the community wanted.
At-large Commissioner Mark Stambaugh holds a middle-ground view.
“I think they serve a purpose. They’re a good idea in some areas, and in some areas they’re not,” Stambaugh said.
Roundabouts need to be properly sized to accommodate the amount of traffic going through, like any intersection, he said. The roundabout at Frederica Road and Demere Road is not, he added.
“They’ve got to be big enough to be functional. If they’re too small, they’re not functional and they cause issues. If we’re going to build them, they need to be big enough,” Stambaugh said.
Part of the issue at the Frederica and Demere roads circle is the traffic light at the entrance of Red Fern Village, which can cause traffic to back up into the roundabout, he said.
Commissioner Bob Coleman held a more negative opinion.
“I understand the principle of the roundabout, and I understand why a roundabout versus an intersection, but my question is: is Glynn County ready for roundabouts?” Coleman said. “We’ve got to do something about the traffic issue and keep traffic moving, but I think it’s just a matter of time until we have some serious accidents in these intersections.”
He said older residents and retirees sometimes have trouble navigating roundabouts because they aren’t used to them, and more factors have to be considered when entering them.
A one-lane roundabout, such as the one proposed for Demere Road and East Beach Causeway is more sensible for this area, he said.
Commission Chairman Bill Brunson could not be reached for comment Friday.
The early morning action at a Blythe Island home on Feb. 23 proved to be the kind of conflict for which Glynn County Police SWAT team members spend so many hours in training and drills.
Police had tracked down a wanted man believed to be armed and dangerous to 6231 Blythe Island Highway, where the SWAT team gathered to serve the warrant. Suddenly, gunfire from a Uzi-style semiautomatic weapon lit up the predawn hours as John Patrick Frohn III allegedly opened fire through a window at SWAT team members closing in from the side of the house.
As all hell broke loose, things went pretty routinely for the SWAT team from there. The SWAT squad under fire in the side yard tossed a flash-bang device inside the house. Another squad used the resulting distraction to rush through front door, with one of the SWAT officers wounding Frohn, who allegedly met them with a handgun.
But the courage the SWAT officers displayed in conducting the by-the-book arrest with bullets flying did not go overlooked. The 13 members involved in the the incident were honored at Thursday’s Glynn County Commission meeting, each receiving the police department’s Police Medal of Valor.
“Every day, we rely on these officers to do the difficult and often dangerous work of protecting all that we hold dear — often without expressing the gratitude and the respect they so richly deserve,” County Assistant Police Chief Scott Trautz said during the presentation. “And every day, these oustanding police officers answer our call without hesitation.”
Then Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering extended similar high praise shortly after the shooting incident. The incident started several days earlier when Indiana authorities alerted county police about Frohn. The Brunswick resident had allegedly directed death threats at his wife and children in Lawrenceburg, Ind., as well as law enforcement officer across a tri-state area in the Midwest.
Police determined Frohn’s alleged threats were not hollow, and required immediate action. He had posed with the Uzi-style weapon in his arms on his Facebook page. Doering noted the initial SWAT squad’s decision to answer the gunfire with a flash-bang device rather return fire.
“These guys put their lives on the line every day,” Doering said. “They used good tactics. They used the element of surprise.”
Frohn remains in the Glynn County Detention Center, charged with numerous counts of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, as well as being a fugitive from justice.
Those honored were: Lt. Cory Sasser, Inv. Ronnie Cooper, Inv. Garrett Wright, Ofc. Rick Leska, Inv. Jeremy Stagner, Inv. Eric Butler, Ofc. Tim Hollingsworth, Inv. Shaun Johnson, Inv. Chris Lowther, Ofc. David E. Haney, Ofc. Cameron Arnold, Ofc. D.J. Walker, and Inv. Parker Marcy.