KINGSPORT — In about two weeks time, the new Watauga Street roundabout will be open for pedestrians and traffic, thus bringing an end to one of the most confusing intersections in the Model City.
Work began in November to transform the five-way intersection at Watauga Street, Gibson Mill Road and Ravine Street into a modern roundabout.
Public Works Director Ryan McReynolds said concrete for the road was expected to be poured by the end of last week, with the intersection expected to be open within the next two weeks.
“It looks fantastic now. They’re pouring concrete (for the road), and then we’ll let it set to reach an acceptable strength before we put traffic on it, usually about seven days,” McReynolds said.
The new intersection will look radically different than what people have been used to seeing. All of the traffic signals and signs have been removed from the intersection, and in their place a large, circular concrete island (roundabout) has been installed.
Roundabouts have larger islands, keep traffic more constrained, and are generally safer than signaled intersections and traffic circles, city officials have said.
During the early part of the project, all of the utility lines (power, telephone and cable) were placed underground, and the city added a better storm drainage system to the intersection.
“Once that was completed, we were able to remove all of the concrete and asphalt and strip down to the subgrade (dirt). That’s where you start coming back up with your road structure,” McReynolds said. “The soil at subgrade needs to pass certain tests, be able to hold the load the road is going to place upon it, the vehicles traveling across it.”
However, once crews dug down to the subgrade they found the soil was structurally substandard and would not be able to hold the traffic load.
“Then we had to start undercutting, which is basically removing that dirt until we got to some good soil,” McReynolds said. “That occurred throughout much of the site. We came back up with a mixture of large and small stones, filling in back up to a subgrade elevation, and started building our road from there.”
This extra work resulted in additional expense to the project. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen last week voted on an emergency ordinance to appropriate an additional $50,000 to the project to cover the cost of the undercutting and fill material.
This additional expense has caused the project to come in at about $800,000, which includes the construction work, architectural and engineering services, and land acquisition.
Other features of the project include stamped crosswalks and new stamped sidewalks (which were poured last week), decorative lighting, public art, a stamped truck apron around the roundabout, new signs and striping, and new curbs and gutters.
Re-striping the intersection and landscaping work will be the final tasks in the three-month project, McReynolds said.
“We’ve put a 10-by-10 concrete pad in the center of the island to house public art, and Lewis Bausell (landscape specialist for the city) has put together a landscaping plan similar to the circles on Broad Street — daylilies, monkey grass and mulch. It will have a nice look, but at lower maintenance.”
The idea for a roundabout at the intersection came out of a transportation corridors study done in 2002, where this project ranked the highest out of 22 projects.