Amherst Select Board to move ahead with roundabout despite TM vote

  • Amherst Select Board Chairwoman Alisa Brewer, right, at a meeting last year with David Ziomek, then interim town manager. Brewer says the board on Monday agreed to move ahead with a roundabout at East Pleasant and Triangle streets. GAZETTTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 07, 2016

AMHERST — A roundabout that will replace the conventional intersection of East Pleasant and Triangle streets will continue to be built, even after Town Meeting last week advised town officials to halt the project.

The Select Board on Nov. 28 agreed unanimously that work on the roundabout should go on, with members observing that the project is so far along that there would be downsides to stopping it.

Alternatives, such as upgrading the existing traffic signals, would be both expensive and provide only limited relief to the traffic congestion that occurs at the intersection during commuting time.

“We agreed that the project continues to move forward, and we look forward to it being completed before the 2017-2018 academic year begins,” said Select Board Chairwoman Alisa Brewer in an email.

The Select Board voted in favor of the roundabout in March, following a recommendation from the Public Works Committee, and approved a conceptual design from CDM Smith Inc., of Boston.

The roundabout is seen as both improving the intersection’s traffic flow and making it safer for vehicles and pedestrians.

But an advisory petition brought to Town Meeting Nov. 21 by Vincent O’Connor of Precinct 1 calls on the Select Board and DPW to stop all expenditures and activities related to the roundabout, and to find a cheaper and safer alternative. That measure passed 95-77.

The DPW has been working throughout this year near the intersection to put utilities below ground and to improve water lines. Officials are also working on purchasing and cutting the granite curbing that will be used at the edge of the road. Several trees were also cut down to make way for the roundabout.

That work is being funded by a $1.5 million state MassWorks grant.

Select Board member Constance Kruger said it was important to reaffirm the commitment to the roundabout, observing that Town Meeting may not have been provided enough detail about why the roundabout is necessary.

“This was a way to get information out to the public, information that wasn’t able to be presented at Town Meeting,” Kruger said.

Though the roundabout was projected to cost $1.1 million, DPW Superintendent Guilford Mooring estimated that the town only has to spend an additional $250,000 to $300,000 to complete the work. This will come from state Chapter 90 money provided to Amherst.

O’Connor told Town Meeting that new traffic signals would improve the intersection at less cost.

But Christine Gray-Mullen, former chairwoman of the Public Works Committee, said the improved signals were previously considered, and were determined to be less safe. In fact, she said, traffic lights give people a false sense of security.

Gray-Mullen said her committee reviewed the roundabout project at 10 meetings beginning in April 2014.

In addition, Mooring said upgrading the signals would cost in excess of $100,000, to replace the traffic cabinet and install new wires and lights, and would only bring marginal improvements.

In the coming days, the Select Board will draft a letter that will explain their rationale for continuing with the roundabout project.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.