Roundabout way to make island history

South Whidbey is set to get its first roundabout in a year from now.

South Whidbey is set to get its first roundabout in a year from now, thanks to a grant from the federal government.

This week, Island County commissioners approved construction of a $526,000 compact roundabout in the Freeland business district at the intersection of Main Street and Harbor Avenue.

A federal grant for safety-related projects will fund $521,000 of the project.

Nikki Davis, the county traffic engineer, said building a compact roundabout, instead of a full-sized one, means that the county won’t have to buy any extra property at the intersection, the cost is reduced and construction will be much less disruptive.

Davis said the intersection, which is currently regulated by four-way stop signs, is not only busy but has a higher-than-normal number of traffic collisions. Studies show that roundabouts reduce overall collisions by 37% and injury collisions by 75% at intersections where stop signs or traffic signals were previously used, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The roundabout will include a pedestrian-friendly raised crosswalk, Davis said. Studies have also shown that roundabouts are safer for pedestrians than perpendicular intersections, the state reports.

The first roundabout on Whidbey was built in 2019 on Highway 20 at Banta Road on North Whidbey, which was often congested because of cars leaving a Navy gate and had also been the site of serious accidents. The project was somewhat controversial at first, with about a third of the people attending a workshop the prior year raising concerns.

Several more roundabouts are planned in the Oak Harbor area in coming years and nobody has publicly complained.

Davis said the project will be an exciting project for both the Freeland community and the county. If everything goes as planned, engineering will be completed this year and construction will happen next year.