DOT considers roundabout for intersection near North Smithfield schools

DOT considers roundabout for intersection near North Smithfield schools

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation is considering changing a traffic signal at the intersection of Providence Pike and Greenville Road to a roundabout. (Valley Breeze photo by Elise Manahan)

NORTH SMITHFIELD - The Rhode Department of Transportation is considering changing a traffic signal on a busy route through town to a roundabout, a move some say will increase safety and ultimately save money.

The light, which marks the intersection of Providence Pike and Greenville Road, is in need of repairs, and town officials believe the change could be a preferred long-term solution to ongoing maintenance problems.

The Town Council and Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton asked DOT to study the feasibility of installing the traffic change at the crossroads, which mark access to both the high school and the middle school, after learning of a problem with the signal's loop detection system. Drivers on Route 104 were being "short-changed" as green lights quickly turned back to red.

"There have been maintenance issues with the detectors at this signal, which is why we began a discussion with DOT and asked them to review the possibility of a permanent solution," said Hamilton.

The state Traffic Commission took up the matter in March, and started a traffic study in May. If the change is ultimately approved, DOT will start the design process over the next year, and construction is slated to begin in 2015.

"This location is a good candidate for a roundabout," said Hamilton, who added that her office has been part of an ongoing discussion with DOT.

It's the type of change that the federal highway administration supports.

"Although traffic signals can work well for alternately assigning the right-of-way to different user movements across an intersection, roundabouts have demonstrated substantial safety and operational benefits compared to most other intersection forms and controls, with especially significant reductions in fatal and injury crashes," explains a flyer on the benefits of the system, which has become increasingly popular in recent years. According to USDOT, by converting from a signalized intersection to a roundabout, a location can experience a 78 percent reduction in severe crashes and a 48 percent reduction in overall crashes.

Up the road in Smithfield, work is expected to begin soon on installing a roundabout in place of the traffic signal at the intersection of Douglas Pike and Providence Pike.

"It would match the two major intersections in the corridor up the road from each other," said Hamilton.

In North Providence, a roundabout on Fruit Hill Avenue completed last November has received mixed reviews. While DOT representatives say the device is doing its job in "calming" traffic, and point to the lack of accidents as evidence, some residents have called the change distracting, and point out that many drivers do not know how to use the circular yield system. Traffic generally flows in a counter-clockwise direction in a roundabout, and motorists entering the intersection are required to yield to traffic already in the circle.

Hamilton, however, says such improvements can save both the town and motorists money, while even helping to protect the environment.

"Although roundabouts have more up-front costs, they have much less maintenance costs," she said, referring to the potential for decreased repair and electric bills. "A roundabout may actually save money overall from a maintenance viewpoint, as well as road user cost perspective."

Travelers, she said, save time as well as money by not wasting gas at a red light.

The change is also considered good from the environmental perspective.

"Traffic continuously moves through a roundabout, so less emissions are released into the atmosphere," Hamilton said.

At the schools, principals John Lahar and Robert Mezzanotte say they haven't heard any complaints about the intersection as it is now.

"We both would welcome further discussion about any proposed changes to traffic patterns that would affect student drop-off and pick-up, if a change is being considered," said high school head Mezzanotte.

Hamilton admitted that with the exception of the repairs needed for the signal, the intersection has not been a problem.

"Although we don't necessarily have a safety issue at this location, we are taking a proactive approach by reducing the potential for crashes," she said. "Also, it slows people down since traffic must reduce their speed to 20-25 miles per hour to go through the roundabout. This is ideal since it is close to the schools, and Route 5 currently has a speed limit of 40 miles per hour."