ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTY, GA – For years, sitting in a mile-long line of cars was not an uncommon occurrence for commuters at the intersection of South Milledge and Whitehall Road in Athens-Clarke County. But today, thanks to a new roundabout with a unique oval design, congestion is now a thing of the past as community members embrace a more streamlined commute.
As an On-Call Consultant for Athens-Clarke County for over 10 years, Benesch was familiar with the area and the community’s needs. At the beginning of the design process, two critical objectives were clear for improving the existing intersection: addressing the corridor’s traffic and safety concerns and successfully navigating its complex physical constraints.
“The project team decided that a roundabout would be the best solution to address community concerns,” explained Benesch project manager Victor Conover. “But after making that decision, we realized that a traditional design approach would not work in this environment.”
Due to very limited right of way and limited available easement available to fit and construct the roundabout, the project team had to re-evaluate the roundabout’s configuration. Three of the intersection’s quadrants are University of Georgia (UGA) property, including UGA’s Whitehall Forest Campus—an approximately 840-acre forest comprised of several educational, research facilities and federal laboratories.
“That’s when we came up with an oval shape to take advantage of the existing right of way,” Conover said.
The oval roundabout proved to be a formidable improvement to the area. This design approach lent itself to gentler grading impacts and made effective use of right-turn right-of-way. It also mitigated impacts to UGA property and the campus’ specimen trees.
As the only access point to UGA’s Whitehall Forest Campus, maintaining access for students and faculty was paramount. Extensive coordination with University and county staff set the stage for a smooth transition into the project’s construction, without the need for long detours or extensive road closures.
“This design process was a really successful collaboration,” remarked Conover. “Even with the roundabout’s a-typical geometry, we were still able to maintain critical design features for entry and exit speeds and incorporate new facilities for bicycles and pedestrians.”
When the roundabout officially opened to the public in late 2019, its reception was overwhelmingly positive. County officials received countless emails, voicemails and Facebook posts from community members regarding their experience with the roundabout and shortened commutes due to the improvement.