The Flagler County Commission approved spending roughly $2.5 million to build a roundabout on Old Kings Road, at the intersection with the entrance to Bulow Plantation and what will be the entrance to the Radiance development–what used to be known as Eagle Lakes.
The commission’s 4-1 vote followed some limited public opposition to a roundabout. But the decision was not so much about the roundabout itself as about the county spending transportation impact fee revenue to build it–or, technically speaking, approving impact fee credits providing for the developer to build it, since the county itself will not be involved in construction. Impact fees are the one-time levy on new construction that helps defray the “impact” of new development on surrounding infrastructure and services.
The roundabout had been incorporated in the development of Radiance when the county approved Radiance’s Planned Unit Development, the blueprint controlling how the subdivision is to be built. Radiance is to have over 1,600 homes when built out, generating substantial traffic. Each home generates $1,599 in transportation impact fees. Rather than charge the fees to Radiance, Radiance will build the roundabout.
County staff had recommended the roundabout. So this was not to be an up or down vote on the roundabout’s validity. But roundabouts have tended to draw public opposition in Flagler County, even though evidence shows that they significantly improve intersection safety, reducing t-bone and head-on crashes–and fatalities–especially. Discomfort and misinformation about roundabouts persist, however.
“The roundabout as part of the PUD was recommended by staff from a safe safety standpoint,” Commissioner Donald O’Brien said. “The discussion is about the allocation of the impact fees in my mind, not about the roundabout. We’ve already settled that as part of the PUD approval. Roundabouts work, they’re safe. You cannot deny the data that they’re effective everywhere we’ve implemented them. And so we need to move this thing forward and get it approved and done.”
Commissioner Leann Pennington attempted to have the item continued to Feb. 19, so she could research a few things. Her motion did not get a second.
The roundabout will be built by the Radiance developer at what is today the intersection of Old Kings Road and Audubon Way, the main entrance into Bulow Plantation. The developer will get impact fee credits in exchange for building the roundabout.
Tom Hutson, a Flagler Beach resident and a County Commission candidate in this year’s election, was one of two residents who spoke to the commission in opposition to the roundabout. “This is our last bastion of hope that you will not create a policy of instituting roundabouts,” he said. “Your county staff said the reason they wanted to go for the roundabouts is for safety issues. And they always say they use U.S. 1 as their guide of how this thing would work. Those of us to remember when White Eagle was at old Dixie Highway and U.S. 1, and the years up to that we never had a fatal accident. They put the roundabout in and in less than two years we’ve had a fatal accident at that roundabout. Is it safe road Kings Road? We don’t know. Nobody knows.”
Hutson was not accurate. The U.S. 1-Old Dixie Highway intersection was among the deadliest in the county before the roundabout was built, almost routinely claiming lives in violent crashes, including five lives lost in a single crash, involving three vehicles, in February 2017. Since te roundabout was built, one person has been killed in a crash there, but it was a single-vehicle crash of a driver witnesses said had been going 100 miles per hour, and did not slow down on the approach of the roundabout.
Evidence about roundabout safety is more copious than evidence of roundabout dangers. “Roundabouts have contributed to a 78 to 82 percent reduction in severe crashes,” the Florida Department of Transportation states. “In Florida specifically, early results have shown that implementing roundabouts has resulted in a 15 to 47 percent reduction in all crashes and an 80 percent reduction in serious injuries and fatalities.” Roundabouts also increase traffic capacity at intersections, reduce wait times common with traffic stops, and reduce pollution.
“There’s been plenty of accidents on Old King’s Road with unregulated entrances,” Commission Char Andy Dance said. “There’s been deaths, there’s been severe accidents from people pulling in and out of subdivisions. And a good friend of mine, before the roundabout on Old Dixie, was sideswiped by a red light runner at the light at the White Eagle. So red lights have problems. Roundabouts significantly have less problems, but do have problems.” But from a safety standpoint, roundabouts can be accommodated.
Dance wanted to ensure that the design of the roundabout will accommodate RVs and any future plans for the four-laning of Old Kings Road South.
Adam Mengel, the county’s growth management director, said the commission could change its mind about the roundabout, but the focus of the discussion had to be the impact fee credits. “The PUD sets this out, says that this can be done, says this should be done,” Mengel said. “Our consideration is of the credit agreement, not of the worthiness of the roundabout itself.”