Van Buren roundabout stock

An aerial view of the roundabouts at the Van Buren Street Interchange, which are now open and functional, although construction continues in the area. 

It’s still a major road construction zone, but both Van Buren Street Interchange roundabouts are open and functional — just in time for the inaugural National Roundabout Week.

That started Monday, and the Montana Department of Transportation will be sharing the reasons why the Missoula roundabouts were built and offering tips and tricks to navigate them.

Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas suggests one rationale — when power is down, stoplights are too, while roundabouts remain 100 percent functional.

As for navigation tips, the most basic ones are to slow down, yield to pedestrians and bicyclists, look left and turn right. Once you’re in a roundabout, you have the right of way. Use your right-turn signal to exit.

So far, so good at Van Buren.

“The roundabouts have been functioning well and the feedback has been positive now that they’re open,” said Katie Klietz of Big Sky Public Relations.

The most common complaint about the roundabouts is along the lines of “we live in Montana, not Europe,” she added.

“As we began to talk with our neighbors, many came back with the same feedback: ‘I like roundabouts but no one in Montana knows how to drive them,’” Bob Vosen, MDT’s Missoula District construction engineer, said in a media release. “MDT hears your concerns. We are committed to helping our fellow Montanans learn to safely and confidently navigate these new roundabouts.”

Construction continues on the sound wall panels on the Interstate 90 overpass above the roundabouts. That has left westbound traffic reduced to one lane for much of the summer, and will continue to do so for another two or three weeks, Klietz said.

The westbound on-ramp onto I-90 was closed for short periods this week as the sound walls were swung into place. That will continue next week, she said.  Installation should be complete by the end of the week. Then will follow guardrail and other infrastructure work that figures to take another week or two.

Off- and on-ramp landscaping work at Exit 105 goes on, and pavement is stripped between the roundabouts and East Broadway for storm drain work and the widening of sidewalks. That makes for restricted lanes and a bumpy roadway.

“All of that will be ongoing for the next month or so,” said Klietz.

Meanwhile, across town at the Russell Street reconstruction, Wyoming Street west of Russell will be closed Monday and Tuesday for paving operations. Wyoming east of Russell was paved last week.

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Mineral County, veterans issues

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian