It was supposed to improve traffic. But instead, neighbors say the state's redesign of a roundabout in east Bellevue off Interstate 90 actually...

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It was supposed to improve traffic. But instead, neighbors say the state’s redesign of a roundabout in east Bellevue off Interstate 90 actually has created more gridlock, snarling commuters and school buses alike and generating blocks of backup.

Dozens of angry commuters have called and e-mailed the state Department of Transportation, demanding something be done. A pack of angry parents picketed the intersection earlier this week, upset that their children are getting to school late because buses are stuck in traffic.

“It’s absolute pandemonium now,” said Todd Barnett, a Bellevue resident who has two sons at Sunset Elementary, which sits just off the traffic circle at West Lake Sammamish Parkway Southeast and Lakemont Boulevard Southeast.

The original traffic circle had two right-turn lanes built in that kept things moving, Barnett said. The new version completed about two weeks ago reduced the circle to one lane, which means all traffic — whether turning immediately or heading all the way around — must merge together.

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The state pledged to remedy the problem in a letter to school parents this week and on its Web site, and has brought in flaggers and police to help direct traffic in the meantime.

“We agree that the backups are unacceptable and we are taking steps to fix the problem,” DOT regional administrator Lorena Eng wrote.

Plans are in the works to restore at least one of the two right-turn lanes — likely the one connecting segments of East Lake Sammamish Parkway — to keep those cars from contributing to the bottleneck. The state also may install a stop sign where Lakemont Boulevard Southeast enters the roundabout to create gaps in traffic so cars are better able to enter from the other streets.

The roundabout, which opened in the mid-1990s, was the state’s first. (Now nearly 70 embrace intersections in Washington.) Though fondly remembered now by frustrated commuters, the earlier version wasn’t perfect either, the state points out.

All the traffic flowing into the circle from Lakemont made it tough for drivers at the other three access points to enter, and big trucks sometimes had a difficult time making it around. So when the state was ready to repave the road this summer, it tried to address those concerns, along with adding crosswalks and sidewalks to improve safety for schoolkids.

There has been some success. Afternoon gridlock used to build around 4 p.m., and now doesn’t start until 5:30 p.m., said Don Sims, a state traffic operations engineer. And afternoon waits to enter the roundabout are dwindling.

Terri Aahl, secretary to Sunset Elementary Principal Wayne Hamasaki, said buses are arriving a little earlier every day, but the roundabout traffic is making them arrive late in the afternoon to pick up kids.

“There are times of the day where you cannot even get off the freeway or get on the freeway,” Aahl said.

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or kgaudette@seattletimes.com