Meeting to reopen roundabout debate (5/7/09)

Town officials say accurate information needed

May 7, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The town will return to the roundabout controversy next week with a meeting intended to educate citizens and air complaints.


    Photo courtesy of the town of Williston
The photo above shows the intersection of U.S. 2 and North Williston Road in the early 20th century.

The session is scheduled for Monday, May 11 at Williston Central School. It begins at 7 p.m.

Town officials say there appears to be widespread misinformation about the proposed traffic circle at the intersection of U.S. 2, North Williston and Oak Hill roads. They hope the meeting will provide an anecdote to the rumors.

“The main purpose is to make sure people have accurate information,” said Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig.

Transportation experts have been invited to the meeting, said Town Manager Rick McGuire. They include representatives from the state Agency of Transportation, the Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization and Resource Systems Group, the Burlington consulting firm that studied the intersection.

In March, the Selectboard voted unanimously to build a roundabout rather than install a traffic signal at the intersection to address rush-hour traffic backups and numerous accidents. A study showed that 25 collisions occurred at the corner during a five-year period, making it one of the most accident-prone intersections in the state and qualifying it for federally funded improvements.

Widespread opposition emerged following the decision. A petition was circulated, and about 100 residents gathered at Williston Federated Church last week to discuss the issue.

Most who spoke at that meeting and an earlier hearing on the subject were opposed to the plan, saying it was unnecessary and unwanted. Many felt it would hurt the character of the historic village.

But it is unclear if the Selectboard will reverse its decision or even if the town has the final word on intersection improvements.

Macaig said he had “no idea” if the board will have a change of heart. He previously said he was torn on the issue and voted for the roundabout because he wanted the decision to be unanimous.

Vermont Agency of Transportation spokesman John Ziconni said the state has no desire to step into the middle of a heated local debate.

“We’re open to anything the community wants,” he said, adding that Williston “needs to settle its own dust.”

But Ziconni also acknowledged that U.S. 2 is a state road and the project would be federally funded, giving both AOT and the Federal Highway Administration a stake in the decision.

The project is eligible for federal funding — nearly $1 million for a roundabout, a smaller sum if a traffic light is installed — because the intersection is considered unsafe as currently configured, he said.

It is the town’s call on whether to install a traffic light or a roundabout, Ziconni said. But while stopping short of saying the state would mandate improvements, he said leaving the intersection unchanged was not a desirable option.

“There are people hurting themselves at that intersection and we need to stop that,” he said.

In preparation for next week’s meeting, McGuire assembled a thick folder full of material about the intersection dating back to the early 20th century.

He said police records show that accidents continue to plague the intersection, with five collisions since September 2008. Most, if not all, were fender-benders.

Macaig said next week’s meeting will allow both opponents and the board to learn more about roundabouts even if it doesn’t settle the controversy.

“I don’t expect to change anybody’s minds,” he said. “But at least they’ll have the proper information.”