Officials happy with Union Gap roundabouts

YAKIMA -- Almost two months have passed since the Department of Transportation opened the region's first set of two-lane roundabouts in Union Gap.

Since then, some drivers have entered the circles from the wrong direction. Others were shunted to exits they didn't plan to take, and according to transportation officials, there are drivers who stop in the traffic circles themselves.

But despite the initial confusion, Don Whitehouse, regional administrator for the transportation department, counts the project a success. Not only are driving times reduced, there have been no accidents, he said.

"It takes less time to get to work every morning or get through the intersection at night," he said. "We're happy with the way they are functioning."

The two roundabouts at the intersection of Valley Mall Boulevard and Interstate 82 are a part of a $34.3 million project that will include a third roundabout by next fall. The project was paid for through the federal government, the state and federal gas tax and local funds.

State transportation officials say the traffic circles provide better and more direct access to and from Interstate 82 and North Rudkin Road -- in addition to improving area connections to the interstate for retail and commercial development.

Before the project began, 22,000 drivers used the I-82 Valley Mall Boulevard interchange every day, according to state data. That number is expected to increase to 31,000 in 10 years.