OLEY TOWNSHIP — Oley Valley School District bus driver Melissa Ott breathed a sigh of relief Monday after test-driving a new roundabout that opened just ahead of the start of school Thursday.
“If the roundabout wasn't open, I didn't know what we would do,” Ott said, after taking a test drive Monday morning around the newly paved roundabout east of the village of Oley at the intersection of Route 662 and Route 73 in Oley Township. “The roundabout will help ease traffic. It's good.”
Ott, 33, a mother of three, said she anticipates the roundabout will work great once drivers learn how to use it.
“It will be a big help with the traffic,” Ott said, noting the district encouraged drivers to practice driving on the roundabout before school starts.
The Oley roundabout is a high-priority safety project designed to curtail accidents and fatalities at the busy intersection, officials said.
It's used daily by school bus drivers going into the high school on Lynx Drive, which is part of the roundabout. The district has 1,682 students in Oley, Alsace, Pike and Ruscombmanor townships in Berks County.
Monday was the first business day the Oley roundabout was open to motorists.
Crews with H&K Group of Skippack Township, Montgomery County, worked during the weekend of Aug. 9 to ensure the roundabout would open on time, allaying fears of parents and employees of the construction causing traffic problems for district school buses and anyone else driving to the high school.
“We spent the weekend of Aug. 9, 10, 11 working around the clock to make this happen,” said Nelson Hearn, project superintendent.
Dr. Tracy Shank, Oley Valley High School superintendent, thanked the contractors for completing the roundabout before school starts.
“We are very grateful for the hard work and dedication that the workmen displayed this summer to ensure the safety of our students and community,” Shank said. “Their exemplary dedication will ensure a smooth opening for our students this year. We are sincerely grateful for all their efforts.”
The paving is complete but contractors will be finishing the roundabouts curbs and island while students are in school, officials said.
The Oley roundabout is part of a project to construct two roundabouts on Route 73 to ease traffic congestion.
A second roundabout, 3 miles west of the first project, is under construction at Route 73 and Oley Road, Ruscombmanor Township. It is expected to open in November and alleviate problems at the other Route 73/662 split.
Ronald J. Young, PennDOT spokesman, said the $5.7 million project for the two roundabouts is ahead of schedule.
Young said the original target date for completion was October 2020.
“The two Oley roundabout projects are a safety corridor project because there have been numerous accidents on the state highways,” he said. “Roundabouts eliminate head-on collisions and T-bone collisions because you have to slow down to go around the circle.”
“Along that stretch of 73 there have been crashes over the years,” Young said. “There are also speeding issues.”
PennDOT said the speed limit is reduced to 40 mph in the area of construction, which extends a quarter mile in each direction of the two roundabouts.
The speed limit on Route 73 is 50 mph and 55 mph on 662.
In February 2011, 17-year-old Marc M. McKently of Ruscombmanor Township, a senior at Oley Valley High School, was fatally injured in a crash at the western Route 73/662 split near Oley Road. The car McKently was driving collided with a tow-truck hauling two vehicles.
Central Berks Regional police Sgt. Justin Johnson said the residents are familiar with the traffic issues at the intersection. Central Berks took over Oley police protection in January 2018.
Will they work?
“Part of the problem is that people who are driving through don't know the roads,” Johnson said. “Time will tell if the roundabouts will help.”
Residents and employees expressed mixed reactions to the new roundabouts.
Andrew Smith, 23, a cashier at the Sunoco near the intersection of routes 73 and 662, said he expects the traffic flow to improve.
“Everyone was hoping it would open before school,” Smith said.
Tina Kunkle, 52, of Reading, said she does not like roundabouts.
“They are confusing,” Kunkle said. “A lot of people like them. They are working hard on them.”
What: A single-lane roundabout at routes 73 and 662, east of the Oley Village, opened Monday morning to motorists, three days before the first day of school for students in the Oley Valley School District.
Next: Construction of a second roundabout west of the village at Route 73 and Oley Road in neighboring Ruscombmanor Township has started and the roundabout is expected to open in November.
Cost: $5.7 million
Speed limit in construction area: 40 mph about a quarter mile on routes 662 and 73, leading up to the construction area.
Speed limit on highways: Route 73 is 50 mph and Route 662 is 55 mph.
Route 73: A 62.3-mile connector from Leesport, Berks County, through Montgomery County and Philadelphia to the New Jersey state line at the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.
Route 662: A 26.1-mile road extending from Douglassville to Shoemakersville.
Contractor: H&K Group of Skippack Township, Montgomery County.
Target completion: November