Anyone who drives in Starkville knows the familiar drudgery of waiting at the stoplights. No one likes waiting for the light to turn green, especially here in Oktibbeha County, where it sometimes seems a misanthrope programmed the traffic lights. Certain intersections let one way go for a long time while the other way has around 20 seconds to rush through before the light turns red again. I know I have had many more occasions where I have hit several red lights in a row than I have hit a string of greens.
Four-way stops in Starkville are just as dreadful. No one knows the rules of the road. Time after time I see people blow on through thinking they somehow deserve to go first, despite getting there last. I will admit four-way stops do not bother me as much as stoplights, but I do think there are intersections which could stand to be improved.
What can be done to combat our tedious commutes? I propose the city of Starkville replace the stoplights and some four-way stops with more roundabouts, like the one on Blackjack Road. This would lessen the travel time, increase safety and cut down on electric costs for the city and gas costs for drivers.
A 2005 study funded by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found roundabouts reduce travel delays as much as 74%. Common sense also would suggest roundabouts save time. Cars going through it will get in and get out as fast as they can. While traffic jams can happen, they are more likely to be resolved because no one is stuck behind an arbitrary red light.
The Federal Highway Administration's roundabout guide notes in the U.S, the mean reduction in crashes with injuries was 51%. That means the number of car accidents where people get hurt is cut in half, just by having roundabouts installed! From a public safety standpoint, roundabouts come out far ahead of their peers.
Another advantage of roundabouts is their relative cheapness. The only maintenance they require is the same which all roads require, that of paving potholes as they arise and generally keeping the asphalt in a state of good repair. However, stop lights are pricey to erect and maintain a continuous 24/7 drain on electricity, a cost which comes out of the taxpayers' pockets. The Washington Department of Transportation estimates these costs run as much as $10,000 per traffic light annually.
Starkville is a great place, but why not make it even better? This could be the Southeastern Conference town everyone wants to come to since game day traffic is so easy with all the roundabouts — besides Columbia, Missouri which has 29 roundabouts. Roundabouts have a certain je ne sais quoi which adds a charm unavailable in Knoxville, Tennessee or College Station, Texas.
The common refrain of Mayor Lynn Spruill when students complained about Blackjack Road was, "It is not in the City of Starkville, so our hands are tied." However, the most egregious traffic lights are within the Starkville city limits. I understand budgetary concerns are always pressing, especially right now with the coronavirus hurting everyone economically. Starkville especially will miss the influx of game day traffic. It would be unrealistic for me to call for the total renovation of the town to be roundabout-oriented.
I think a better alternative is identify the worst stoplight offenders and set aside the beginnings of a fund for replacing them. This might not get done tomorrow, but if the town makes a plan and works toward it, Starkville can become a better place to live.