Study restarts debate over village intersection1/22/09

Solutions sought for accident-plagued corner

Jan. 22, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Town officials have long debated what to do about the accident-prone and traffic-clogged intersection where U.S. 2 meets Oak Hill and North Williston roads. The Selectboard has held hearings, residents have voiced opinions and traffic experts have made recommendations.


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
Traffic passes through the intersection of U.S. 2 and Oak Hill and North Williston roads on Tuesday morning at around 8:30 a.m.

Now a consultant has revisited the topic with a study that shows that converting the four-way stop to a roundabout or a traffic signal would best ensure safe and speedy passage through the intersection.

Representatives of Resource Systems Group presented their findings to the Williston Selectboard on Jan. 12.

The intersection ranks among the least safe in the state, the study found. There were 25 accidents during the five-year period ending in 2006.

Traffic has also been a problem since four-way stop signs were installed as a temporary measure almost eight years ago, although backups have eased in recent years, possibly because of downsizing at IBM and changing commuting patterns.

But traffic volume is still high: the study found that 550 eastbound vehicles pass through the intersection during the afternoon rush hour.

The report concludes that adding either a traffic light or a roundabout would ease traffic and prevent accidents. But some Selectboard members worry that a traffic light would create worse collisions as northbound vehicles travel downhill on Oak Hill Road.

Board Chairman Terry Macaig said in an interview that traffic along Oak Hill Road already moves like “hounds of hell” and might speed up more if motorists were trying to beat red lights.

“A couple of years ago, I thought a traffic light would be the solution,” Macaig said, but now he’s unsure. He noted one option is to leave the intersection unchanged.

Two Williston residents who attended the meeting expressed opposing viewpoints on the situation.

Cynthia Johnson said a traffic light was the best solution, according to minutes from the meeting. Veronica Jordan said she preferred a roundabout.

Roundabouts generally move traffic more smoothly and safely than traffic lights, the study noted. But a roundabout would cost between $935,000 and $960,000, depending on the configuration. A traffic light would cost $230,000.

Because there are so many accidents at the intersection, however, the federal government may cover the entire cost of either option.

Another potential problem with a roundabout is that it would involve acquiring a small amount of land from adjacent property owners, including the Korner Kwik Stop and Williston Federated Church.

The new study is the latest chapter in a long-running debate over the intersection.

Back in 2001, the town granted IBM a permit for expanding its Williston facility. The permit required the company to pay for intersection improvements. But IBM never expanded and has actually downsized in the past few years, so the upgrade was left undone.

The Selectboard back then voted against a traffic signal amid opposition from nearby residents who complained it would hurt the quaint atmosphere of historic Williston Village. A few years later, the Selectboard endorsed a roundabout.

Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden said the town pushed for the latest study in hopes of deciding the matter once and for all. He declined to say which option he considered best. But he did say that one alternative analyzed by the study — a smaller roundabout that would have less impact on adjacent properties — was impractical because trucks would not have room for certain turning movements.

The board decided to delay a decision on the intersection until it could gather more public input. A hearing on the issue could be held as soon as next month.