Roundabout proposal gets lukewarm reception

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An artistic rendering of a potential roundabout at the intersection of Rubber Avenue and Meadow and Cherry streets in Naugatuck. –CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — The idea of building a roundabout on Rubber Avenue received mixed reviews and elicited numerous concerns from the public during a hearing on the concept last week.

Officials are considering replacing the four-way intersection of Rubber Avenue and Meadow and Cherry streets with a “modern roundabout” as part of a larger project to reconstruct Rubber Avenue from Elm Street to Melbourne Street.

The reconstruction project, which is expected to be funded through the state Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program with the borough covering engineering costs, will include drainage improvements and new sidewalks and landscaping.

“We plan to make Rubber Avenue significantly better than it is,” said Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess during a hearing on the roundabout June 25 that drew about 40 people.

Officials are looking at the roundabout, which is still up for discussion as to whether it’ll be included in the project, as a way to improve safety and traffic flow at the intersection, and also to make the intersection a gateway for the community.

“As an engineer, we know roundabouts are safer,” said Lisa Slonus, a professional engineer with Weston & Sampson, an engineering firm working on the reconstruction project.

Slonus said there are 32 points where vehicles can collide in a four-way intersection and 24 points where cars can collide with pedestrians. In a roundabout, she said, there are eight points for both types of collisions.

“A big reduction even in the possibility of crash conflict,” she said.

The preliminary design shows a roundabout that is 120 feet in diameter, which would require some land from the property where Rite Aid is to build. Splitter islands will be built where traffic approaches the roundabout to divide vehicles entering and exiting it.

Scott Bushee, a highway design engineer with the state Department of Transportation, said roundabouts eliminate left turns and cars travel slower through them — generally at speeds of 20 to 25 mph.

“Once you eliminate left turns from an intersection, capacity goes up, safety goes up significantly because you’re no longer waiting there to take a left,” Bushee said.

A February memorandum from Weston & Sampson states that an average of 12,726 vehicles traveled through the intersection daily based on traffic counts taken in December 2018 while school was in session. The memorandum also states that traffic backed up anywhere from 75 feet to 550 feet at times at different parts of the intersection.

According to data from the Connecticut Crash Data Repository, there were 23 crashes — four involving injuries — at the intersection from 2016 through 2018, the memorandum states.

Residents said issues at the intersection have improved since the Whittemore Bridge and Route 68 bridge reconstruction projects, which were done at the same time, have been completed.

“This intersection was a pain to go through when the bridges were shut down,” Brian Farrell said.

Residents raised a variety of concerns about the roundabout idea, including pedestrian safety, crashes occurring within the roundabouts and clogging up the intersection, how it would handle a large traffic volume after at an event at Naugatuck High School, and that it would impact nearby businesses.

George Bacon, who said he retired as a supervisor for the state, said traffic circles don’t work and cause maintenance issues. He said many traffic circles were removed in the state.

“It just doesn’t work,” he said.

Bushee said the traffic circles that were originally built in the state were much larger than the “modern roundabout” concept. Vehicles travel faster through the larger traffic circles, he said, and traffic in the circles have to yield to cars entering. The smaller roundabouts lead to slower speeds, he said, and cars entering yield to those inside it.

The overall reconstruction project will move forward with or without the roundabout. The state Department of Transportation was planning to replace the traffic lights at the intersection, officials said, and would likely do so if the borough doesn’t opt for the roundabout.

Several residents felt it would be better to just make improvements to the intersection, which is part of state Route 63, like coordinating the traffic lights at nearby intersections and adding left turn signals where there aren’t any.

“I can’t see why you just can’t coordinate all the lights,” Herbert Wright said.

The roundabout wasn’t without its supporters among the public.

Prospect resident Barbara Rompre, who said she does a lot of business in Naugatuck, and Jim San Angelo of Naugatuck both said they lived in Germany where roundabouts are prevalent.

“As I driver I find them very safe,” Rompre said.

San Angelo said traffic flow is much better through roundabouts and felt if the borough kept the crossing the guards at the intersection it would alleviate concerns about people crossing the street, especially school children.

“To me it’s a good thing,” he said about the roundabout.

Borough officials took no action on the idea last week. Hess said the Board of Mayor and Burgesses will hold a special meeting in July to discuss and take action on the roundabout.