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How to Fix West Main Road Intersections Still Big Question Mark

The public forum and Rhode Island Department of Transportation presentation held Wednesday night drew 200 concerned residents, but resulted in no clear answer about whether Middletown will choose roundabouts or new traffic lights for West Main Road.

A public hearing held Wednesday on the proposed West Main Road included three hours of information from the Department of Transportation and feedback from residents, but no best clear solution seemed to emerge by the end of the night. 

However, a majority of the residents who stepped up from the audience of about 200 at said they favored improved traffic signals with dedicated left turning lanes over the roundabouts proposal for West Main Road at the intersections of Two-Mile Corner and Coddington Highway.

Meanwhile, RIDOT officials maintained that they viewed both solutions to be equally effective improvements with nearly equal costs—with the roundabout traffic controls having a greater advantage when it comes to safety due to the elimination of head-on collisions. 

“We at the DOT believe that whichever option you choose is going to be better than what we have there today,” said presenter Robert Clinton, of the firm Vanasse, Hangen, Brustlin, Inc.

“I took away an awful lot of ideas tonight,” Middletown Town Council President Art Weber told the remaining crowd who stayed until the end. He said the Town Council members would need to take some time to review the information and comments collected at the hearing before making a decision.

Many residents who spoke against the project on Wednesday night questioned whether the computer simulations accurately depicted traffic on West Main Road and shared concerns about pedestrian crossings, having multiple lanes in the roundabouts, and—for lack of a better term—bad drivers. They don’t appropriately yield as it is, and out-of-towners who are unfamiliar with the area or how to navigate a roundabout will cause problems, several people complained.

Councilor Bruce Long shared concerns he’s received from constituents about motorists cutting through their neighborhoods to avoid the roundabouts.

Trout Drive resident Kevin Johnson, who works as a traffic engineer and designs roundabouts for a living nationwide, said he usually favors roundabouts but would not recommend the two-lane roundabouts for West Main Road due to certain engineering and slope challenges in that area, their proximity to each other and the presence of other signalized intersections nearby. He worried about gridlock occurring from surges after nearby lights change green. Instead, Johnson endorsed the improved signalized intersections at the two dangerous intersections.

The Middletown Town Council videotaped Wednesday’s public hearing and all public comments will be available to view in their entirety online on the town website.

Johnson and others said they’d prefer to see roundabouts at other intersections in Middletown.

Speaking in favor of roundabouts was Carmela Geer, a resident of Wood Road and a regular Patch contributor, who said roundabouts would improve safety, traffic movement and aesthetics on West Main Road in her neighborhood.

“It forces you to slow down no matter how fast you’re going,” Geer said.

She recalled how her son's car had been hit in a serious car accident four years ago when another motorist allegedly ran one of the two adjacent red lights while attempting to make the second green light.

Thankfully, her son was okay, but speeding and light jumping has not gotten any better on West Main Road, she said.

Several residents who spoke, including Aquidneck Island Planning Commission Chairman Richard Adams, suggested that RIDOT also consider a roundabout for the intersection of Valley Road and Green End Avenue.

In July, the Planning Board recommended the roundabouts solution over the new signalized intersections with dedicated left turning lanes.

RIDOT has earmarked two problematic West Main Road intersections at Coddington Highway and East Main Road in Middletown for safety improvements, using about $4 million in federal highway funds. The state has left it up to Middletown to choose between two options: improve signalization with dedicated left turning lanes and realigned roadways, or install two roundabout traffic circles. Both projects are nearly identical in costs.

Middletown must inform RIDOT on its preference by the end of September.

RIDOT presenters on Wednesday night said construction for the new traffic signals alternative could begin as early as mid-2012, while construction of the roundabout solution would begin in 2013 due to the extra time needed for land acquisition to be negotiated and further engineering work to be done.

For more information

  • The Middletown Town Council videotaped Wednesday’s public hearing and all public comments will be available to view in their entirety online on the Town of Middletown website.
  • View the RIDOT computer simulations in the image gallery above.
  • Click on the “Keep me posted” button below to receive automatic email updates related to this issue.
Jasper August 25, 2011 at 09:16 PM
I still don't see a dedicated turn lane for cars turning left into maple ave and the bank Newport. Widen the road and fix that area, seriously listen and look Ridot and town council!
ScottRAB August 26, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Modern roundabouts are the safest form of intersection in the world. Visit www.iihs.org for safety facts. The safety comes from the ‘slow and go’ operation instead of the ‘stop or go fast’ way a stop light works (or the ‘keep going fast’ large traffic circle fantasy). The smaller size of the modern roundabout is what makes them safer and keeps speeds in the 20 mph range. This makes it much easier to avoid a crash or stop for pedestrians. It also means that if a crash happens the likelihood of injury is very low. Safety is the #1 reason there are over 2,200 modern roundabouts in the US today and many more on the way. Slow and go also means less delay than a stop light, especially the other 20 hours a day people aren’t driving to or from work. Average daily delay at a signal is around 12 seconds per car. At a modern roundabout average delay is less than five seconds. Signals take an hour of demand and restrict it to a half hour – at best only half the traffic gets to go at any one time. At a modern roundabout four drivers entering from four directions can all enter at the same time. Don’t try that with a signalized intersection. If you keep choosing a stop light solution, you'll keep having high speed T-bone crashes and delay.

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