Hundreds sign roundabout petition (11/5/09)

Foes of intersection change seek townwide vote

Nov. 5, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

A petition drive aimed at reversing plans for a roundabout in Williston Village has gathered nearly enough signatures to prompt a townwide vote, albeit a non-binding one.

Five percent of registered voters, or 371 residents, must sign the petition to prompt the Selectboard to consider placing the issue on the Town Meeting Day ballot in March. About 300 signatures had been gathered as of Friday, said Ginger Isham, who has led the petition drive.

“The undersigned voters of the Town of Williston disagree with the decision of the Williston Selectboard that a roundabout should be installed at the intersections of Route 2, Oak Hill Road and North Williston Road,” the petition states. “The intersection should remain a four-way stop at this time and until future studies demonstrate that the current four-way stop is ineffective.”

There is plenty of time to gather the remaining signatures. Town Clerk Deb Beckett said the deadline for placing petitioned items on the ballot is Jan. 21.

The ballot question requested by the petition asks voters whether they want to replace the existing four-way stop at the intersection with a roundabout.

But the results of that vote would not force the Selectboard to reverse its previous approval of the roundabout, said Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz. In fact, the board is not even required to place the petition question on the ballot.

“This is an issue that by law the Selectboard gets to decide,” Markowitz said.

Petitions can trigger a binding, townwide referendum on matters concerning municipal spending, such as budgets, and on town governance issues, such as the number of members on a town board. Markowitz said most other matters fall under the category of policy decisions legally reserved for a town’s governing board.

Non-binding petitions, however, can still be a powerful form of political persuasion, she noted.

The roundabout saga began almost a decade ago when the Selectboard rejected a proposed signal light at the intersection, which frequently has lengthy traffic backups during the evening rush hour. The board later decided a roundabout was the better option but no money was available to build it.

But then the intersection was listed as one of the most dangerous in Vermont, making improvements eligible for 100 percent federal funding. A study concluded that either a roundabout or a traffic signal would reduce the high number of accidents.

In March, the Selectboard opted to install a roundabout that would cost nearly $1 million. That prompted widespread opposition and a petition signed by hundreds.

But because that petition did not specifically ask for a townwide vote on the issue, it prompted no action. Opponents then drafted another petition with more direct language.

The Selectboard subsequently requested that the speed limit on U.S. 2 be reduced, a change suggested during the roundabout debate. The Vermont Traffic Committee in September approved a reduction to 30 mph through much of the village.

Isham, who lives on Oak Hill Road a few miles south of the intersection, said she was happy about the speed limit but still opposed the roundabout.

She and other opponents say the roundabout would fail to provide a safe way for pedestrians to cross, negatively impact the adjacent Williston Federated Church and Korner Kwik Stop and hurt the historic village’s atmosphere.

They also argue the roundabout is unnecessary, saying traffic flow is adequate and asserting that accident data is outdated because it fails to account for installation of the four-way stop sign and the more recent speed limit reduction.

Isham said she hopes to gather the remaining required signatures this week and submit the petition.