Col. Steven McCartney had hoped for more from the $71 million spent to alleviate Apponaug Village traffic.
The chief said last week he is “disappointed” with the performance of Apponaug roundabouts, citing backups during commuter hours in the morning and evening at the Veterans Memorial Drive and Greenwich Avenue roundabout. As recently as last week, he said, traffic was at a standstill on Veterans Memorial Drive and he couldn’t get on the road from police headquarters.
“I thought it was a great idea,” McCartney said of the system of five roundabouts designed to eliminate the Apponaug Four Corners bottleneck by diverting traffic to Veterans Memorial Drive, making it two-way and extending it to an intersection and roundabout with Centerville and Toll Gate Roads.
The Apponaug Circulator, as it was dubbed, was seen as the ultimate answer to village traffic that became so bad in the 1970s that then-Mayor Joseph Walsh created the village rotary by turning Post Road in front of City Hall into a one-way road going east and Veterans Memorial Drive into a one-way road west. Still, it was a slog getting through the village, with traffic backing up daily on Post and Centerville Roads. The village center was frequently two lanes of incessant traffic.
Then planners came up with the circulator. Initially, the plan was simply to extend Veterans Memorial Drive as a bypass to the four corners and the village center. Roundabouts were introduced as a means of expediting traffic with the elimination of signalized intersections.
McCartney says he was maybe “too optimistic” for what the circulator could do. He feels the fault lies in a combination of design and driver unfamiliarity with roundabouts.
The roundabout at the former four corners is smaller than that at Veterans Memorial Drive and, as he points out, frequently becomes a choke point in the system. As for drivers, McCartney is all too familiar with what can happen.
“My guy got T-boned, he [the other driver] was doing 40 to 50,” the chief said of an accident Aug. 3 when Capt. Michael Gilbert was struck. Gilbert suffered an injury to his hand and has not been able to return to work. The driver of the other vehicle fled the scene but later turned himself in after the incident was reported on Live PD, McCartney said.
“People just don’t yield,” he said.
McCartney said police have cited motorists for failing to yield to traffic in roundabouts, but regularly monitoring the circulator would take away resources from other responsibilities.
Data would suggest that motorists are learning how to drive the roundabouts. There were a total of 12 accidents within the circulator system during July 2017 as compared to nine accidents for this July.
The state Department of Transportation reported a comparable number of accidents for July, noting that it would be a mistake to compare accident totals from 2014 when the Four Corners was two one-way streets merging to become one, one-way street.
“The number of conflict points was much lower than a four-way roundabout, which we now have,” RIDOT director of Communications Lisbeth Pettengill said in an email.
“Many years ago, when the Apponaug Circulator was designed, the goal was to improve traffic flow through the village by shifting heavy traffic from the center of the historic village to a new roadway to the north. Both the reduction in traffic and the beginning of additional economic growth is happening. In that regard, the plan is working,” she wrote.
She added that traffic is flowing with travel times reduced from the previous traffic configurations and new businesses locating there. She said a new restaurant opened at Apponaug Four Corners and AAA is purchasing the old Apponaug Mill.
“Roundabouts have proven to reduce fatalities by 90 percent and greatly reduce injuries and the severity of crashes. The Federal Highway Administration has identified roundabouts as a proven safety countermeasure as compared to traffic signals. We are also putting in new signage to reduce confusion,” she said.
RIDOT did not disclose whether there are any plans to alter any of the roundabouts nor statistics on the number of daily vehicular movements in the circulator.