Heavy traffic prompts design redo for roundabout project


An unforeseen snag has affected a $3.3 million road project in east Pearland.

The city has decided to redo part of the design to improve the traffic circle on Pearland Parkway after learning that the planned work wouldn’t be sufficient to handle traffic needs related to the University of Houston-Clear Lake Pearland Campus, said Skipper Jones, Pearland assistant director of engineering and projects.

The design work is expected to be completed in October, with construction expected to get underway in January, Pearland city spokesman Joshua Lee said. The project remains within the overall budget with the additional work included, Lee said.

Jones said motorists leaving the campus, which is which is to the immediate north of the circle, were having difficulty getting out to the parkway, especially when commuters were returning to Pearland at the end of the workday.

In May 2019, voters authorized bonds for project including replacing the traffic circle with a roundabout.

Plans to turn traffic circle into a roundabout

Although “traffic circle” and “roundabout” are often used interchangeably, they are different. A traffic circle has a large diameter and is designed so that vehicles can move at relatively high speeds, Jones said.

“A roundabout is a much smaller diameter circle that forces traffic to slow down,” he said.

Pearland Parkway is heavily traveled with often fast-moving vehicles.

“There’s a lot of traffic on it, and because it is long and relatively straight people fly through there,” Jones said.

When the traffic woes related to the university campus came to light, Pearland had to hit the brakes on design work.

“We were two-thirds into the design and we yanked the carpet out from underneath the designer and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to have to do something different here,’” Jones said.

To handle the college’s traffic, the road is going to be widened.

“Basically, we’re adding an acceleration lane to the southbound lanes that feed into the roundabout,” Jones said.

The redesign portion of the project is about one-third done, Jones said.

“This has set the designer back pretty hard because now we are looking at utility relocations along the west side of the southbound lanes and some additional drainage concerns with the existing drainage infrastructure in that area,” he said.

Aiming for a long-term fix

Going back to the drawing board is also beneficial.

“Ultimately we don’t want to go to the trouble of designing something and then construct it and before we actually finish it we find out it is inadequate for its purpose,” Jones said. “This has given us the ability to rethink all of the numbers, look at some of the things that were not originally anticipated for the project to cure. This should be a 20-year or more fix.”

There is also a bit of a bright side to the delay, thanks to COVID-19.

“We’re having a lot of discussion with contractors in terms of how many projects have been canceled or pushed back,” Jones said. “That is all of a sudden making work a little more scarce for contractors, particularly for larger ones, and it may be about to drive prices down.”

John DeLapp is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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