Highway 76 roundabout opening will cause long detours next week

In preparation for the opening of the new roundabout along state Route 76 at Valley Center Road, backcountry travelers will face some long delays and detours next week.

Between 7 p.m. Monday and 7 a.m. Tuesday, the highway will be reduced to one lane of traffic between Valley Center Road and Rincon Ranch Road.

During those same hours on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, that stretch of highway will be closed completely and California Department of Transportation officials warn the work could continue Wednesday night depending on how things go.

The closures are needed to tie in the new roundabout to the intersection and open the realigned road to traffic.

The roundabout is the first on a state highway in the county and will replace the existing three-way intersection where many accidents have happened over the preceding decades.

It is being built roughly 75 feet to the southeast of the existing intersection and has an estimated cost of $15.5 million.

A roundabout is a circulatory roadway through which vehicles travel counterclockwise within the intersection. Traffic entering the roundabout must yield to circulating traffic. Studies show roundabouts reduce the types of crashes that result in injury or loss of life because they require drivers to significantly slow down.

Though smaller versions of roundabouts are common is some urban neighborhoods, and Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs is at the intersection of county roads, few exist on state-controlled highways, officials said.

Traffic along state Route 76 has been increasing for years, fueled in part by motorists heading to or from North County casino and resorts.

The project was first proposed almost a decade ago when a study showed there were 35 accidents at or near the site between 2005 and 2009, four times higher than the statewide average for similar intersections.

Signs will warn motorists to slow as they approach the traffic circle.

There will be no good detours around the closure with each taking motorists an hour or longer to navigate.

Those west of the closure wanting to go east will have to go west on Route 76 to northbound Interstate 15, then north to Route 79 in Temecula, then south to Highway 76 in the Warner Springs area.

Those east of the closure wanting to go west would reverse the detour.

jharry.jones@sduniontribune.com; 760/529-4931; Twitter: @jharryjones

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