A proposal to build a roundabout on Highway 108 at Mackey Ranch Road was met with mostly positive feedback from the Tuolumne County Transportation Council at a public meeting Wednesday afternoon, despite having generated some negative comments on social media over the past few days.

Stephen Willey told the council that he’s lived in the Jamestown area for 40 years as the owner of the historic National Hotel and Restaurant on Main Street and called the idea “one of the finest proposals” he’s seen in that area “in a long time.”

“We know roundabouts work,” Willey said, referring to their success in places like Europe and other parts of California. “Thank you for having the vision to think about this.”

The council, however, doesn’t have much say in the matter because the project will be completely funded by the Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians of California in partnership with Caltrans.

Construction is estimated begin in about a year and cost about $4 million.

One of the driving forces behind the project is to create a new entrance to the tribe’s Chicken Ranch Casino via Mackey Ranch Road, which currently can only be accessed via Chicken Ranch Road.

“Our concern has always been getting our traffic off of Chicken Ranch Road for our council, our tribal members, the community, and, of course, for the folks that come to our facility,” said Stephanie Suess, community development and resource director for the tribe.

Residents who live off of Chicken Ranch Road have complained to the county about increased traffic and safety concerns since a major renovation of the casino was completed in 2012, the same year the tribe started working with Caltrans on a solution.

The project is also intended to improve safety at Highway 108 and Chicken Ranch Road,

There have been six broadside collisions at the intersection in the past five years, said Kamesh Vedula, an engineer for the Roseville-based consulting firm GHD that was hired by the tribe to design the project.

Vedula said engineers design projects with the intent of reducing broadside collisions in particular because they tend to be especially severe or fatal.

After conducting different studies, Caltrans decided that a roundabout would be a better option for the intersection that will serve as the new main access point to the casino as opposed to a traffic signal.

“Since roundabouts are efficient and safe, Caltrans is supporting them in a big way and making a big push to put them where they make sense,” Vedula said. “On rural highways where your speeds are higher, they consider roundabouts a better alternative to a traditional signal.”

Vedula showed a video made by Caltrans about a roundabout in the City of Kerman in Fresno County that cited statistics from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program report that state roundabouts reduced all accidents by 36 percent, injury accidents by 76 percent and fatal accidents by 90 percent when compared to two-way stops, all-way stops and traffic signals.

The video also showed an interview with a Kerman resident who said he hated the idea of a roundabout at first, but now enjoys them more than traditional intersections after getting used to it.

According to data collected by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, public opinion on roundabouts went from 68 percent negative to 73 percent positive after one was installed in a given area.

County Supervisor John Gray, a member of the TCTC board, said he is “kind of a neophyte” when it comes to roundabouts, but he felt it would be a better option for the area than a traffic signal considering that the county is building one at 5th Avenue and Highway 108 in Jamestown.

Matt Hawkins, a member of the Sonora City Council and TCTC board, said he encountered roundabouts while living in Washington and quickly got used to them after finding them nerve wracking at first.

At the same meeting, the TCTC board also approved a $2.4 million budget for the agency through July 30 and an five-year extension to the employment contract of TCTC Executive Director Darin Grossi, whose base salary is about $148,000 a year.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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