Roundabout selected for village intersection (3/26/09)

Stoplight slated for James Brown Drive

March 26, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Going against the flow of public opinion, the Selectboard chose a roundabout as the best way to move motorists through an accident-plagued intersection in Williston Village.

The board on Monday picked the roundabout over the stoplight and no-build alternatives for the corner where U.S. 2 meets North Williston and Oak Hill roads. It also decided a stoplight and a turn lane were the best way to improve another problematic intersection at Vermont 2A and James Brown Drive.

Board members acknowledged installing a roundabout would override public sentiments expressed during a hearing in February and on previous occasions. Traffic at the corner is currently controlled with a four-way stop sign, and most who spoke during the hearing wanted the town to leave the intersection alone.

“We heard quite strongly from people who (live) close to the intersection that they are happy with the way it is and it doesn’t need to be improved,” said Jeff Fehrs. But he said the wishes of other residents who didn’t attend the meeting and motorists in general should also be considered.

Chris Roy said he strongly supported a roundabout. He said they move traffic smoothly and look better than other alternatives.

“I think it would be great for Chittenden County to have a state-of-the-art roundabout that the rest of the county could look at and learn from,” he said. “I think that the benefits greatly outweigh the cost, and it would be a very responsible investment for the gateway to our village.”

Mark Smith, senior associate with Burlington-based Resource Systems Group, presented a study of potential improvements for both intersections. He said because the U.S. 2 intersection is accident-prone, it is eligible for 100 percent federal funding no matter what improvement was chosen.

RSG’s study found there had been 25 crashes over a five-year period ending in 2006, making it among the most accident-prone intersections in the state. The study concluded that a roundabout or a traffic signal would improve safety and traffic flow.

But residents at the February hearing thought stricter traffic enforcement or better crosswalks would solve safety problems. And some thought congestion, which is mostly limited to the afternoon commute, was manageable.

The board voted unanimously to select the roundabout as its preferred alternative, then had a lengthy discussion about how to solve the complex problems at Vermont 2A and James Brown Drive.

Traffic is often congested on the heavily traveled stretch and pedestrians have no safe way to cross the road.

Smith outlined numerous potential improvements, including traffic islands, stoplights and crosswalks. But he acknowledged the state would probably not approve of some of the options.

The board settled on a hybrid approach proposed by Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden. He recommended the town install a stoplight, a crosswalk and center turn lanes that could be used by both northbound and southbound vehicles on 2A.

Neither project is expected to be completed anytime soon. Though the roundabout will be eligible for immediate funding, Boyden said rights-of-way must be acquired from neighboring property owners, which could delay the project. Smith said the Vermont 2A/James Brown Drive project will compete for state and federal funding with all the other road projects in Chittenden County.