Middletown Nixes West Main Road Roundabouts
The Middletown Town Council voted Tuesday night to endorse a Rhode Island Department of Transportation plan to fix two dangerous West Main Road intersections—without using roundabout traffic circles.
The Middletown Town Council on Tuesday night gave its unanimous endorsement for improved signalized intersections on West Main Road at Two-Mile Corner and Coddington Highway. In Councilor Ed Silveira's absence, the 6-0 vote effectually rejected an alternate proposal put forth by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) for roundabout traffic circles for the two adjacent problem intersections.
The council's vote came at the request of the RIDOT engineers, who had presented the two intersection improvement options to the Town of Middletown over the summer and asked that the town give a preference by end of September for the project to move forward. Costs and construction timelines had been relatively comparable but the effectiveness of roundabouts and questions over pedestrian safety and heavy tourist traffic had drawn much concern from residents at three separate public hearings over the summer.
Town Administrator Shawn Brown best summed up Tuesday night's conclusion to the public debate during his opening remarks, as he summarized findings from the town’s own independent consultant earlier this year that echoed opinions offered by RIDOT officials.
“As the DOT would say, we know the new signalized intersections would create improvements to those two intersections,” Brown said and soon after added, “However, there’s a question about whether roundabouts will work for this community…”
While studies on roundabout traffic circles have shown them to slow traffic, keep traffic flowing, and improve safety as well as aesthetics, there remained concerns about whether two roundabouts on West Main Road on a strip with other nearby signalized lights would be effective for Middletown, he noted.
“There are a number of questions that make us pause,” Brown said.
Council members shared similar concerns.
“Can roundabouts work? I think the answer is ‘maybe.’ Can signalized intersections work. The answer is ‘absolutely,’” Councilor Christopher Semonelli said. “I’m convinced the signalized option is the way to go.”
Councilor Bruce Long said he entered the roundabouts debate earlier this summer favoring the traffic circle option over new and improved signal lights, but he found the more he learned about the roundabouts and the more research he did, the more he felt that improving signals would be the better solution to West Main Road’s specific traffic problems without causing new problems.
RIDOT engineers have proposed improving the two intersections with dedicated left turning lanes, among other improvements.
As an avid cyclist, Councilor Richard Cambra said he ultimately looked at what the best option would be for pedestrians and bikers’ safety. “It seemed like the best choice would be signalization,” he said.
Town Council President Art Weber noted that he was also basing his vote, in part, on residents’ concerns and opposition to the roundabouts.
“This is not the time nor the place” for roundabouts in Middletown, Councilor Antone Viveiros said.
Many of the council members seemed to indicate they were not entirely opposed to roundabouts elsewhere in Middletown.
Councilor Barbara VonVillas noted that during the public hearings, town officials had heard from many residents who supported the general concept of roundabouts—but not for those two intersections.
“I think it was unfortunate that roundabouts were proposed for the center of town at that particular location,” VonVillas said, and suggested that in the future Middletown consider the potential for roundabouts at other problem intersections where they might be more appropriate.