Roundabouts to put more spin on Apponaug traffic

Posted 7/30/13

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 …

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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.


6 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • RIposter

    Sounds like you will need GPS to navigate this one artery! Maybe they could spend some of this money on fixing some bridges that are failing inspections.

    Tuesday, July 30, 2013 Report this

  • DanMurphy

    These roundabouts might work in places where people know how to drive, but that's not for us. I suggest the DOT, Avedesian, and all the other fans of these dressed-up rotaries go watch traffic on the one in West Warwick, on Providence Street in front of the Horgan School. People yield when they're supposed to keep going, and don't yield when they should, and drive in a part of the rotary - oops, I meant "roundabout," like there's a difference - not meant for traffic (the brick center), and then cause problems re-blending with traffic that got it right the first time.

    And this traffic is extremely light compared to any of the Apponaug intersections.

    This job could have, and should have, been done a few years ago without the rotaries, instead creating a continuous two-way street from the intersection of Centreville and Tollgate Roads, through to the intersection of Greenwich Avenue and Veterans Memorial Drive, connecting with the Post Road Bypass in front of Bank America.

    The costs would be greatly reduced, the traffic would be a continuous flow, and those who want to shop in Apponaug can do so without fighting traffic (Ask the merchants in Buzzard's Bay how business jumped after the I-495 project was done, eliminating traffic that did not want to use the 6-28 Connector).

    And it could have been done a few years ago, instead of three (projected) years from now.

    Wednesday, July 31, 2013 Report this

  • DanMurphy

    Chafee didn't get it done, but if he had, it would have been the first thing he got right as mayor.

    Wednesday, July 31, 2013 Report this

  • ScottRAB

    Modern roundabouts are the safest intersection in the world. The FHWA has a youtube video. Modern roundabouts and the refuge islands they use are two of nine proved crash mitigation tools, according to the FHWA. IIHS dot org has a FAQ page with common questions and safety statistics.

    Many people confuse modern roundabouts with rotaries (UK roundabouts), traffic circles, like Arc d'Triumph, and neighborhood traffic calming circles. The brick area around the circular island is a truck apron, it is there for trucks to drive on.

    I would include links, but this web side doesn't permit pasting my text.

    Wednesday, July 31, 2013 Report this

  • JohnStark

    As someone who is routinely critical of local government, this project makes all sorts of sense. Traffic circles (roundabouts) are central to many other New England cities and towns and alleviate a great deal of congestion. Rhode Islanders simply need to learn how to drive and obey the rules of the road, and roundabout rules are pretty simple. It was recently a pleasure to drive all around Ireland with virtually no traffic lights or backups. "These roundabouts might work in places where people know how to drive..." is little more than "We're morons from RI and can never learn how to drive..." It's time.

    Wednesday, July 31, 2013 Report this

  • markyc

    In the end, this may work as planned. However, I see possible problems with there being no planned traffic signals. And with most government projects, I expect it to cost approx. $40 million & take over 2 plus years to complete(anyone remember Greenwood Bridge?).

    Traffic 'Spinning through Apponaug' may be an appropriate term.

    Thursday, August 1, 2013 Report this