Roundabout planned for intersection of routes 4 and 5 in White River Junction

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-15-2023 1:07 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A planned traffic roundabout is expected to improve public safety at the junction of routes 4 and 5, a hazardous intersection with a high rate of vehicle collisions, according to state transportation officials. 

Vermont Agency of Transportation, or VTrans, officials held a public hearing on Monday at Hartford Town Hall to gather community feedback on a conceptual design for the proposed roundabout.

Construction of the roundabout is expected to start in 2027 and will take 18 months to complete, according to VTrans design engineer Stephen Sacco.

The project cost, which will be entirely funded through federal and state sources, is currently estimated at $6.1 million but could increase up to $700,000 by the time the project goes to bid.

The intersection, which receives up to 9,000 vehicles per day, is categorized as a “high crash location” by VTrans’ Office of Highway Safety.

Between 2011 and 2020, a total of 27 crashes occurred at this intersection, nearly half of which involved vehicles making a left turn off Route 4. A 2016 road safety study by VTrans found that motorists involved in collisions frequently attributed travel speeds and poor visibility of approaching vehicles as contributing factors. 

Peter Daniels, president of RSD, a commercial truck-leasing company located off Route 4, said that improving traffic safety at the intersection is long overdue. 

“I do agree that it’s time for that intersection to go away and to be modernized,” Daniels told VTrans officials. “I use it multiple times a day, and it tends to be daunting to get through sometimes, especially when driving a heavy truck.”

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Daniels also said the current turnoff from northbound Route 5 onto Route 4 can be difficult for commercial trucks to navigate, especially during icy road conditions — as the steep grade at the intersection can cause heavy vehicles to shift when making the turnoff. 

Resident Judith Bettis noted that motorists also need to be attentive to traffic accessing businesses that are located near the intersection, such as The Tea House, a cannabis dispensary that opened last December on Route 4.  

VTrans explored several intersection alternatives, including the installation of a traffic signal and a “road diet” — a systemic convergence or widening of road lanes to control traffic — before deciding upon a roundabout as the best traffic alternative. 

Town staff and Selectboard members, at a meeting with VTrans officials in January 2022, also concurred that the roundabout was the best project option. 

“With a roundabout, we often see a significant reduction in the severity of accidents,” said VTrans Project Manager Dennis Vertiyev. “You may still see accidents happen, but they are far more reduced in their severity. There’s a lot less personal injury and less property damage. The types of accidents that usually occur are at an angle or a sideswipe-type of accident, whereas at the (current intersection design), you can get an impact that is far more dangerous.”

Roundabouts are typically designed with road curves that make motorists uncomfortable to drive at high speeds, which also helps reduce the severity of collisions,Vertiyev said. 

VTrans officials said the roundabout is intended to reduce speed in the intersection to 25 mph. Currently the posted speeds are 45 mph on Route 4 and 40 mph on Route 5.

Route 5 southbound also will be reduced from the current two lanes to a single lane, which will also help to reduce vehicle speeds in that direction, according to Vertiyev.

This lane reduction will be part of a separate VTrans project to construct approximately 2,000 feet of sidewalk and bicycle lanes along Route 5. This project, which is scheduled to start construction in 2025, will reduce Route 5 southbound to a single lane from the intersection with Route 4 to the roundabout at the intersection of Route 5 and Sykes Mountain Avenue.

Notably, the planned roundabout will be constructed directly in front of the former 25,000 Gifts building, which the Upper Valley Haven hopes to convert to a 20-bed emergency shelter. 

A site plan proposal for the shelter is currently awaiting review by the Hartford Planning Commission. A public hearing for that project is scheduled for Dec. 18. 

Michael Redmond, executive director of the Haven, said the VTrans projects will greatly benefit the 25,000 Gifts property should an emergency shelter be approved. The sidewalk extension project will create a wider buffer between the property and the road, as well as needed pedestrian access along Route 5. The roundabout project also will add crosswalks across Route 5 on both ends of the property. 

VTrans is considering building a bus pull-off near the intersection, which would allow Advance Transit to add a bus stop near the building, according to Vertiyev. 

The public may submit feedback regarding the roundabout project to Project Manager Taylor Sisson, either by email at taylor.sisson@vermont.gov or by mail to Agency of Transportation, ℅ Taylor Sisson, 219 North Main St., Barre, Vt., 05641. Statements or evidence submitted by Nov. 23 will be made part of the public record and may be considered in the preliminary design process.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.