Roundabouts to put more spin on Apponaug traffic


Ever since the 1970s, when one-way traffic was used as a means of getting through the bottleneck that was Apponaug village, the trip has been a circular experience.

That’s going to change in three years when the largest Department of Transportation Warwick project in decades will depend on roundabouts.

Roundabouts, increasingly popular as a means of maintaining traffic flow at intersections as an alternative to traffic signals, were not part of the plan when former Mayor Lincoln Chafee came up with the Apponaug by-pass.

Chafee’s plan was to restore two-way traffic to Post Road in front of City Hall while relieving traffic at the four corners with an extension of Veterans Memorial Drive west to Centerville road. Almost 20 years later many elements of that plan remain the same, only there will still be one-way traffic in the village center but the traffic signal will become a thing of the past.

Five roundabouts will send motorists spinning through Apponaug.

That’s hardly news. The Apponaug circulator plan was aired at public meetings several years ago. Traffic engineers introduced the concept of roundabouts and, drawing upon data from systems in other parts of the country, argued they offered the solution for Apponaug. Village residents, merchants and the city administration agreed with the plan. Since then, seemingly little has happened and the project has faded from view while traffic continues to circle Apponaug.

A lot has happened behind the scenes, according to the Department of Transportation. More visible aspects of the project, including the removal of the Apponaug Mill water tower, could start as soon as this year

Robert Smith, DOT deputy engineer, said last week that the department is in the final stages of securing easements and permits. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) permits are required for the scheduling of work on the Apponaug Mill property, where much of Hardig Brook runs through culverts. While a lot of the brook will be “day lighted,” an environmental improvement, Smith said the work is timed to not interfere with fish spawning cycles.

Bidding on the project is scheduled for this fall with construction staring in the spring of 2014, Smith said. The project will take two years to complete.

Funding is still not firmed up for a project, which has climbed from estimates of $11 million when Chafee was mayor to $33.5 million now.

DOT spokeswoman Rosamaria Amoros said the department “has applied for a $10 million TIGER grant to minimize the diversion of resources from other key transportation projects throughout the state; however, the project will continue as planned even if our grant application is not successful.”

Smith is confident the project is eligible for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant. He said the purpose of the circulator and the fact that the project is ready to proceed meets the grant’s aim to promote “livability communities.”

“Bringing back Apponaug Village is thought to fit very well. All the boxes seemed to check off pretty nicely,” he said.

Amoros provided a breakdown of the remainder of the funding, $11.4 million from the National Highway Performance Program, $5.4 million in earmark and matching state funds of $6.7 million.

If the experience in East Greenbush, N.Y., near Albany, is an indication, roundabouts are going to cause some initial confusion but will be followed by acceptance and even love.

The town has three roundabouts and is planning a fourth. In a recent interview, town planner Meghan Webster said traffic was backed up for a quarter-mile at Routes 4 and 151 some times of the day. With a roundabout replacing the conventional signaled intersection, the backup was eliminated. She said the number of collisions did not drop significantly, but the severity of them was minimized. Significantly, there have been no head-on collisions.

“People love roundabouts. They wish they were everywhere,” she said.

But she cautions it takes time for motorists to understand how they work. She said signage is critical. It needs to be very clear so that motorists don’t discover they are in the wrong lane once they’re entering the roundabout.

East Greenbush town engineer Richard Benko said roundabouts slow traffic but keep it moving. Benko said the roundabout was greeted by a lot of negativity, but people have come to love them.

That was also the take of a cashier at the Stewart service center and convenience store at the Routes 4 and 151 roundabout. She hadn’t heard any complaints since the initial confusion.

But there remain some skeptics as to if roundabouts can work in Apponaug. In a letter to the editor, appearing in today’s paper, Richard Langseth questions if two-lane roundabouts are large enough to accommodate Apponaug’s volume of traffic. He argues for three lanes.

“The two-lane design was chosen because the tunnel under the Amtrak tracks in Apponaug already restricts the amount of traffic in this area. Because there is only one lane in each direction, it controls the amount of traffic coming into the roundabout from the east and exiting onto West Shore Road. When the project was first conceptualized, the traffic volume projections showed a third lane would be necessary to accommodate added growth through 2020. Recent counts have showed that growth is sluggish, and we have since revised the plans to focus on the two-lane roundabout model,” Amoros writes in an e-mail response to Langseth.

Smith said the largest of the Apponaug roundabouts at the current intersection of Greenwich Avenue and Veterans Memorial Drive has been designed to accommodate a third lane if required.

Amoros and Smith say DOT has not overlooked the impact construction will have on traffic flow and the village while also considering the effect of construction on the extension of Green Airport’s main runway. The relocation of Main Avenue is projected to coincide with work on the circulator; meaning two of the city’s major east-west arteries will be impacted. For both projects, a lot of work will not interrupt the existing traffic pattern. The Main avenue loop will only be connected when completed. In Apponaug, the new link between the intersections of Centerville and Toll Gate Roads to Veterans Memorial Drive is also outside the current traffic pattern.

Removal of the Apponaug water tower has proven to be problematic, not because of sentimental attachment to the landmark, but rather its use as a cell tower.

“We’re trying to find them another place to go and get similar reception,” Smith said. He said proximity to Green Airport is an issue.

In an effort to reduce the impact on village businesses and maintain traffic flow, Smith said some of the construction work may be done at night. He said once the DOT has a schedule for the project, there will be a community meeting. And after the project starts, there will be weekly updates on the DOT website as well as Facebook, said Amoros.

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