A request for a traffic signal at the intersection of Shelton Road (Route 110) and Monroe Turnpike (Route 111) to solve congestion problems caused by vehicles waiting to turn left onto Route 111 sparked a Connecticut DOT study in April of 2011. Though the state agency determined a traffic signal was warranted, that still left the problem of serious crashes caused by speeding, according to William Britnell, principal engineer of highway design for DOT.
There have been 24 accidents at the intersection over a three year-period, three with injuries, according to Britnell. Nearly half of them (11) consisted of rear-end accidents on 110, he said.
Britnell said rear-end collisions would decrease on Route 110 with a traffic light, but rear-end accidents on Monroe Turnpike would go up with cars stopped at red lights. "The accidents would likely be more serious due to high speeds," he said.
The study included the projected traffic volume 20 years from now and Britnell said that would be four-to-five times more than the intersection could handle if it just had stop signs.
"A roundabout was considered because there are fewer accidents and less traffic congestion than with a traffic signal," Britnell explained.
An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study of 24 roundabouts in eight states shows a 39% decrease in total crashes, according to Britnell. And because a roundabout forces traffic to slow down, he said there was a 76% reduction in crashes with injuries and a 90% reduction in fatal accidents.
A roundabout in Monroe would also be fully funded by the federal government, Britnell said.
First Selectman Steve Vavrek and the town's state delegation believe a roundabout is the best solution for traffic problems at the intersection.
But the DOT's engineers still need a solution for Hurd Avenue — by the white Harmony Grange building at the corner, where traffic would not flow smoothly into a roundabout, which does not allow left turns.
An informational meeting was held for residents of the Hurd Avenue area inside the Council Chambers of Monroe Town Hall Tuesday night, in which Britnell made a presentation, options for Hurd Avenue were shared, questions were answered and ideas were sought.
Close to 50 residents attended the meeting, along with State Rep. DebraLee Hovey (R-112th), State Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-21st), Police Chief John Salvatore, Town Engineer Scott Schatzlein and Public Works Dir. Douglas Arndt. Several DOT contractors and engineers were also present.
"People drive way too fast," Vavrek told the audience. "This will slow people down." Then he smiled adding, "Maybe it will improve your property values."
Hovey encouraged neighbors to bring their concerns to their elected officials and to Schatzlein at town hall. "We can't always make everyone happy, but we can try to make as many people happy as we can with safety being our priority."
Hovey said slowing down traffic will help to preserve Monroe's Historic District and Town Green area.
Vavrek also encouraged residents to contact his office with questions and suggestions.
A stack of forms seeking input was kept at the door of the Council Chambers for people to fill out.
Britnell said roundabouts are significantly smaller than traffic circles and that those already in the roundabout would have the right-of-way, as opposed to those entering having the right-of-way in a traffic circle.
An island at the center of the roundabout would be landscaped and could have aesthetic features such as a statue or a flag.
Britnell said this is not meant simply to be decorative, rather it directs drivers to look in the direction they should be looking. He said a driver should look at traffic to the left while entering a roundabout, rather than at the cars across the way.
The center of the roundabout is surrounded by what's known as a truck apron. Raised about three inches high, Britnell said truck tires easily ride upon it, giving more room for rigs to maneuver, while other traffic slows down to avoid it.
Triangular "splitter islands" at cross walks surrounding a roundabout give pedestrians a midway point to stand while safely crossing the street, and slows and directs traffic into the circle, according to Britnell, who estimates that a traffic circle reduces speeds to 10 to 15 mph.
Though Britnell said it forces drivers to slow down, he added it significantly reduces pollution from idling engines at intersections by allowing a constant flow of traffic. A study in Carmel, Ind., where there are a lot of roundabouts showed 24,000 gallons of gas saved a year and a 42% reduction in carbon emissions, according to Britnell.
What About Monroe?
Britnell said a roundabout in Monroe would have one lane in each direction of Route 111. See a video demonstration with this story with estimates of traffic volumes 20 years from now. It is shown at higher speeds than vehicles would actually be driving.
A public presentation had been made on March 5,2012 and the decision to pursue a roundabout for Monroe was made on March 29, according to Britnell.
While this is the direction the town wants to go in, Hovey said there are currently no funds allocated for the project. Britnell said the project would cost about $2.5 million and should take one construction season — typically between April and November — to complete. With approvals and other issues that could come up, he said the earliest Monroe could have a roundabout would be 2016.
Right now, the DOT only has a conceptual plan for Monroe's intersection.
The location of Hurd Avenue would make traffic turning left onto 110 on the way to 111 disrupt the consistent right turns within the roundabout. Those living in that neighborhood would have to turn right onto 110, left onto Moose Hill Road and left onto Monroe Turnpike.
One potential solution proposed by DOT is to grass over where Hurd Avenue connects to Shelton Road, make the other end of Hurd Avenue a dead-end, and construct a driveway from the Grange to Route 111.
One problem with that solution, according to a woman in the audience is that some traffic would turn left onto 111 with other cars turning left from 111 into the driveway.
Another option would be to make Hurd Avenue a fourth leg into the roundabout. But Britnell said more land would have to be taken from the Grange and the solution would pose safety issues.
Another option includes making one end of Hurd Avenue a dead-end and grassing over its connection to 110, with no driveway coming out from the Grange.
Britnell said no Hurd Avenue solution has been chosen and encouraged residents to share any ideas and concerns they may have while DOT's engineers continue to tackle the issue.
"It we build this, we will still see accidents," Britnell said of the roundabout. "I won't say that we won't. The hope is there will be less serious fender-benders."
Most of the people attending the meeting appeared to see the positive aspects of a roundabout, but some questioned whether it would work in Monroe.
Robert Somley of Lois Drive believes it would work better in city limit areas, but not where it is being proposed.
"Cars are going 55 mph here," he said. "How will you get them to slow down? Fifty-five, 15, boom — an accident."
Britnell said, "It's about traffic calming. You can't go from 55 to 10, you have to go from 55 to 45, etc."
One man suggested moving the roundabout higher up on Route 111, taking a portion of Fireman's Field, so Hurd Avenue is not affected at all.
David "Rocky" Davin, a crew leader with the Monroe Highway Department, who lives on Monroe Turnpike, expressed his belief that drivers would get annoyed at having to slow down for the roundabout, and will speed up once they get through it.
Ron Deaso, whose house is at the corner of Hurd Avenue and 110, may lose a portion of his yard for the roundabout and the street off his driveway could become a cul-de-sac. He expressed concern about the potential for snow being plowed to the end of his driveway, blocking his way out. Deaso is an emergency service technician for Sippin Energy and is often on call.
Donna Colaiacomo of Lois Circle said if there has to be a roundabout, she favors the option that would allow traffic to turn right from 110 onto Hurd Avenue and right onto 110 from Hurd.
Though Andrew Amalfitano, a Hurd Avenue resident of 56 years, is concerned over how the proposal may affect his street, he told Britnell that he did a great job in his presentation.
John Brooks of Lois Circle was optimistic over the roundabout.
"I think this could be a catalyst," he said. "Everyone in this town is going way too fast. I think that this circle, once we get it right, can be part of a greater discussion on slowing down in this town."