State lowering speed limit near hospital

Not enough traffic for roundabout
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Motorists driving past Shawano’s new hospital soon will find lower speed limits — but not a roundabout — aimed at alleviating traffic congestion.

State highway planners have determined that traffic near ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano is not heavy enough to warrant a roundabout or stoplight at state Highway 22 and County Road B.

The state instead plans to lower the speed limit from 35 mph to 30 mph on Highway 22 just north of the hospital to help motorists navigate into traffic and keep moving.

Tony Kemnitz, a state traffic safety engineer, said the lower speed limit will indirectly alleviate congestion by easing backups on County Road B outside the hospital.

“It’s kind of a side benefit,” Kemnitz said. “It just all came together.”

The lowered speed limit should take effect with the posting of new road signs by this fall.

The state conducted a study of traffic patterns around ThedaCare’s new facility, 100 County Road B, after local law enforcement officials voiced concern that a growing number of motorists in the area was contributing to congestion and possibly safety hazards.

Shawano County Sheriff Adam Bieber said although lowering the speed limit will help, he favors building a roundabout to reduce the risk of serious traffic collisions at the intersection.

“We should not wait until someone is seriously injured or killed to make the changes that are obvious,” Bieber said.

The new hospital, which is large enough to serve more than 100,000 people a year, opened last September at the same time that ThedaCare closed the Shawano Medical Center at 309 N. Bartlett St. The new hospital is next to Shawano Community High School, which also generates high volumes of traffic, including school buses.

Brian Grieves, a chiropractor doing business in the area, said congestion is noticeable at peak travel times during the school year when students are arriving and leaving the high school en masse.

As a member of the Shawano County Highway Safety Commission, Grieves said he is uncertain whether the situation is serious enough to warrant a stoplight or roundabout. But he expressed gratitude that state highway officials are willing to consider changes.

“It’s obviously good to see they’ve taken notice,” Grieves said. “I’m in favor of making it as safe as possible.”

After earlier studying traffic volumes around the new hospital, the state Department of Transportation this summer conducted a study on how fast motorists drive through the area. Researchers used equipment to check passing vehicles on Highway 22 between June 14 and June 16.

Kemnitz presented the findings this week to the county Highway Safety Commission, reporting that motorists generally were driving in compliance with posted speed limits. At least 85 percent of the time, most were not exceeding the speed limits by more than about 2 mph, he said.

“We did not find a speeding problem,” he said.

Researchers also examined road designs, land use patterns and other factors to determine that the speed limit north of the hospital should be lowered to 30 mph going in either direction on Highway 22.

In ruling out a stoplight or roundabout at the intersection with County Road B, the state calculated that existing peak traffic volumes of 175 vehicles per hour would have to increase to 275 per hour in order to justify such an investment. Kemnitz estimated that stoplights would cost $250,000 and a roundabout possibly $1 million to $2 million.

He said the state would continue to monitor the congestion near ThedaCare’s facility.

“We’re aware that this is going on,” he said.

Bieber, who also serves on the county safety commission, said that lowering the speed limit near the hospital will benefit residents and pedestrians, and also will help reduce injuries if any crashes occur on Highway 222.

“Ultimately,” he added, “a roundabout is the safest and most efficient option.”