Roundabouts Proposed For Sykes Moutain Ave.

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 24, 2016

White River Junction — If town planners have their way, Sykes Mountain Avenue will soon be topped by a pair of roundabouts traffic experts contend will slow scofflaws, reduce accidents, and benefit the environment.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation is currently reviewing designs for the $2.7 million project, which likely would take place in summer 2018, said Richard Menge, director of Hartford’s Department of Public Works.

Menge said the project, which would install roundabouts on Sykes at intersections with Route 5 and Ralph Lehman Drive, is needed to accommodate heavier traffic flow associated with the revitalization of White River Junction.

“Certainly, the developments that have gone in thus far are relying upon a future roundabout to alleviate increased traffic conditions,” he said.

The project will be locally managed, but is funded by the state, said Menge.

Town leaders have pursued the roundabout for years — it’s listed as a top transportation priority in the Hartford Master plan, and a 2013 scoping study of the neighborhood noted that the Route 5 intersection saw 28 crashes resulting in three injuries between 2006 and 2010.

The roundabouts are being pursued in part to reduce those numbers.

The safety assertions are borne out by national groups, including the Federal Highway Administration, which cites studies showing that they reduce the number of accidents by about 35 percent, and the number of serious injuries by 76 percent.

The injury rate is reduced, said Menge, because cars move more slowly, there aren’t any sudden stops or bursts of speed to react to a traffic light, and the crashes tend to be sideswipes, rather than deadly head-on collisions.

Modern roundabouts are similar to traditional rotaries, but have distinct design features that make them safer, including yield signs at entries, and exits that can be accessed without lane changes.

Vermont’s first modern roundabout, Keck Circle, was installed in Montpelier in 1995, and resulted in a 69 percent reduction in injury accidents, according to information published on the website of the Chittendon County Regional Planning Commission.

Rebecca White, vice-chairwoman of the Hartford Selectboard, said her experiences on a roundabout in Waterbury have shown her that the designs work well to lessen clogged traffic.

“Personally, I think a roundabout would be a great addition,” she said.

Menge said that, once the state approves the design, the town will enter into negotiations with about a dozen landowners for agreements that will include temporary easements, permanent easements and, in three or four cases, property purchases.

He said the specific properties that the town would want to acquire have not been formally identified.

One casualty of the roundabout at Route 5 would likely be a prominent sign on a grassy strip outside the McDonalds at that intersection.

The strip is part of a .4 acre parcel purchased in 1990 by Hartford Land Company, which is owned by the Flanagan family.

Town leaders have questioned whether the sign has value as a historic artifact.

Pat Stark, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, said the sign is a holdover from the White River Drive-In, which operated on the site from 1952 to 1986.

She said that she would like to see the sign preserved, “because that’s the only thing left from the drive-in.”

At the same time, she said, as a matter of practicality “I don’t know how they would do it.”

To take it from the immediate area, she said “is kind of nuts,” because it would remove it from the context that created it.

But Menge said the sign cannot remain in or near its present location if and when the roundabout is constructed.

Peter Flanagan said the family has been happy to provide a community service by allowing nonprofit organizations, as well as the town of Hartford, to use the sign to advertise local events.

“It’s really hokey-looking, so it does have a lot of charm to it,” Flanagan said. “A lot of people have great memories of the drive-in.”

Flanagan said the family is open to the wishes of the community.

“It would be nice, I think, for the public to be able to still use that area, or whatever’s left of it, to do these sort of announcements,” he said. “We’d be happy to cooperate if it could be accommodated.”

White said she hoped the sign could be preserved, calling it “a great piece of White River Junction history.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.