Despite some concerns over authority, procedures, effectiveness and lack of public input to date, the Middletown Town Council decided Monday to allow a proposal for traffic circle and Coddington Highway to proceed for public review, with a final vote of the council expected in August.
In a 5-1 vote, with Councilor Antone Viveiros dissenting and Councilor Christopher Semonelli absent from the meeting, the council authorized a Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) proposal for two roundabout traffic circles to go before the Planning Board on July 13 for a public hearing.
The Planning Board is tasked with preparing a recommendation for the town on whether to proceed with the project. The Town Council retains final voting authority, but some council members on Monday night expressed misgivings about the process so far.
"...To date, the council has not received official notification from RIDOT of their request for the council to decide whether it chooses roundabouts or the traditional signalized intersection," Councilor Bruce Long stated via e-mail after the meeting. "It is customary to have a presentation by RIDOT for the council, and then to refer the issue to the Planning Board for its recommendation."
"The Council members should have the opportunity to question and exchange comments with RIDOT officials, before a town appointed board reviews the information," Long continued. "There is much more concern than traffic movement. This corridor is our downtown, and should be approached as such.”
Councilor Antone Viveiros said afterwards that he wanted to see more public input.
“I wanted RIDOT to make the public presentation with the ability for town to see the information and the public to ask questions," he said.
The proposal, put together by RIDOT, stems from an island-wide traffic study project managed by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission over the last two years.
Following Monday’s meeting, AIPC Chairman and former Planning Board member Richard Adams noted that public input also has been collected over the last two years before the roundabout recommendation was made as part of larger traffic and transportation studies.
The Town Council on Monday called the special meeting before its summer hiatus to take up the matter, after RIDOT made a special presentation to planners last week that was attended by four members from the council. At that meeting, computerized simulations of the two proposed traffic roundabouts were presented.
Like Long, Viveiros maintained that RIDOT should have made its official presentation last week to the Town Council. He also worried about the issue “becoming another wind turbine,” referring to when the Planning Board and Town Council last year disagreed on how to proceed regarding that issue and ultimately ended with a Town Council moratorium on new wind turbine applications.
Town Council President Art Weber on Monday night noted that there will be a public hearing when the Planning Board holds its July meeting. That will be part of its review process before that appointed board comes up with its recommendation for the council to receive and vote on as early as August.
Weber said the Town Council held its special meeting Monday night because the timing for the RIDOT project, advance planning and seasonal construction timeline remains tight.
If Middletown ultimately rejects traffic roundabouts for West Main Road, they’ll instead need to give the go-ahead for RIDOT to pursue the new signalization project, Weber said.
“We have to tell RIDOT what we want," he said. "There’s about $5 million [in federal funds] set aside for the project already."
As for the effectiveness of roundabouts, based on the RIDOT simulations and data pulled together so far, Weber noted that the initial statistical indicators so far seem to favor roundabouts in favor of new signal alignments for West Main Road at Two-Mile Corner and Coddington Highway.
“In terms of quantifying traffic counts, accidents…it comes out in favor of roundabouts and the costs are about the same,” Weber said. “The planning and construction takes a little longer for roundabouts, because there’s a little more land involved and real estate issues to consider.”
For More Information
- The RIDOT presentation and computerized simulations can be viewed in the photo gallery above.
- Visit the RIDOT website for more information on this project.