URBANA — Champaign County Board members have told the Urbana City Council in no uncertain terms that they don't want a traffic roundabout at the intersection of Olympian Drive and Lincoln Avenue.
It's now up to Urbana City Council members to determine if they're willing to fight for a roundabout versus a traditional intersection design.
Mayor Laurel Prussing said roundabouts are the future and indicated that she'll continue to push for them.
"I'm not going to go back on years of study that the Urbana City Council has put into this. We'll take their advisory vote under consideration," she said. "But we want them to see that the world is really going toward roundabouts. The United States is going in that direction."
Still, it's not the county board's call; the Olympian Drive project is Urbana's and will receive no county funding.
But the county holds one important card.
If the project requires condemnation, it would be the county, not the city of Urbana, that would use its eminent-domain authority.
"I've got inkling ... from some folks on the county board that if we advised the city of Urbana that we don't want the roundabout and the city of Urbana goes against our advice and we come back to the county board to vote to condemn property for the project, then the county board might say: 'Who are you, city of Urbana, you didn't take our advice, so we're not going to condemn.' Project done, see ya later," said Jeff Blue, the county's highway engineer.
The county board voted 17-9 Tuesday night to tell Urbana that it preferred a regular intersection design at Olympian and Lincoln. The yes votes included 10 Republicans and seven Democrats, among them Urbana Democrats Chris Alix, Brendan McGinty and James Quisenberry.
Tuesday's vote was only preliminary; the county board will take final action at its May 24 meeting.
Quisenberry said he believed roundabouts are appropriate in some areas, "but I cannot be convinced of the justification of putting one at this intersection, given its neighborhood, its usage and so forth."
"This isn't a question of whether roundabouts are good or not. There are several intersections in Urbana where I'd like to see a roundabout. I just don't believe that this one makes sense."
McGinty said that residents of the rural area around Lincoln and Olympian don't want a roundabout.
"For that particular location, I think a stop sign will work just fine for the next 25 years," he said.
Mahomet Republican Stephanie Holderfield said Urbana was being "disrespectful" in pushing a roundabout at the site.
"What we're looking at is putting a roundabout in the middle of nowhere. For what purpose? Because we now have the city of Urbana determining that this is in the best interest of the people in the rural community," she said.
Rural Urbana Republican Steve Moser, a farmer, said large farm machinery and equipment could create "a traffic jam" at the rural intersection.
"As long as we've got mega-farmers going all the way around this town, I see no use for a roundabout to make things worse than they are," he said.
Ralph Langenheim was one of the eight Democrats (along with Republican Steve O'Connor) to vote against the motion for a traditional intersection design. He said he originally opposed roundabouts but now favors them because they are less expensive to build and use less energy.
"They are a good thing from an engineering and social point of view," he said.
Prussing said she was disappointed in the votes of Alix, McGinty and Quisenberry.
"I would say that's unfortunate, because when county boards were redesigned in 1972, the purpose was to give urban people an equal voice on the county board. One of the key things is that more than two-thirds of county government is paid for by urban people," Prussing said. "Brendan (McGinty) said he was concerned about the rural people. That's fine, but he does represent District 9 (southeast Urbana)."
And she predicted the issue "may become moot."
"What might happen is that this might become a federal standard. Road planners are looking ahead, and Urbana is looking ahead. The whole state of Indiana, which is very conservative politically, is installing roundabouts like crazy."
Urbana officials did take one major vote Tuesday night. The county board committed to help with half the funding for an estimated $1.1 million reconstruction of Philo Road, south of Windsor Road. The work is expected to begin later this year, although the county's payment may not come for two or three years, because of existing financial commitments.