Read the article, not just the headline.

In this fast-paced world where attention spans are shorter, and everyone seems endlessly busy, it can be difficult to ask people to gather information before rushing to judgment. However, this dilemma becomes more frustrating when an elected official tries to explain the complex rationale behind unpopular decisions.

For example, the people of Sioux City are fired up about the prospect of a roundabout being built at one of our intersections. I took some time to attend the public meeting and visit with residents in that neighborhood to hear their thoughts on the upcoming project. Before the public meeting, I had already been contacted by people in that area who thought the project was too expensive and money should be spent elsewhere in the city. In addition to the $1.7 million price tag referenced, many were frustrated with the proposal that they use a provided golf cart to get to and from their home since their road would be closed during construction. I figured I wouldn’t be welcomed to the meeting with open arms.

Neighbors immediately started lining up to voice their displeasure with the proposed intersection improvement. I was told that there wasn’t any traffic that would warrant this, that nobody in our community wants roundabouts, and that it was a waste of taxpayer dollars. Since Woodbury County was taking the lead on this project, and the city was merely splitting some of the cost for this improvement, I wasn’t as knowledgeable about the subject as I probably should have been when entering that room. However, I listened and promised to investigate the justification for such a thing.

At first glance, I, too, was surprised that the roundabout installation would cost more than 1.7 million dollars and agreed with homeowners that there certainly didn’t seem to be enough traffic in that area to warrant such an improvement. After discussing the project with City staff, here is some context that I think was missing from the headlines of that public meeting:

  • The $1.8 million estimate for the project included the paving and utilities for more than 1/3 of a mile of Elk Creek Road and the roundabout improvements. The roundabout portion costs approximately $150,000 of the total project.
  • The use of golf carts was originally proposed to avoid damaging a drainage area on a homeowner’s property; however, City staff is working on securing access for a temporary roadway to homes during construction.
  • The addition of the Elk Creek subdivision will add 143 homes, at complete build-out, to that area and the paving of Elk Creek Road will likely result in more development of that area. Therefore, while current traffic may not justify increased safety controls and improved traffic operation at that intersection, improvements in the future would surely be necessary. And if we anticipate needing changes in the future, I would rather make those improvements while the road connected to it is being paved and before dozens more homeowners are traveling through that intersection. 
  • Finally, this intersection is unique in that it has five different legs. Therefore, a lighted intersection would not address or improve access to the additional street.

Change isn’t always easy, but sometimes it’s necessary. I understand we don’t currently have any roundabouts in Sioux City. Still, communities throughout our region and countries across the globe use roundabouts and have found them safer than traditional intersections with stop lights. They require less upkeep than stoplights and aren’t susceptible to outages or regular replacements.

If serving the people of Sioux City has taught me anything, it is that there is often more to the story than just the headline. If we take a moment to be curious rather than critical and listen just as much as we speak, I’m confident we can work together to build a better future. Just know that I’m not judging you if you get stuck driving around the roundabout more than once. We are all learning, and we are all doing this together.

By Alex Watters

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