Cars turning left onto Monroe Turnpike from Route 110 sometimes cut in front of another vehicle speeding along the roadway. It has contributed to the 26 crashes at the intersection over a three year period.
Of those accidents, there were three injuries and no fatalities. However, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing the construction of a traffic circle there to make it a safer place to drive.
William Britnell, principal engineer of highway design for DOT, presented a conceptual plan to residents at a hearing at Monroe Town Hall Monday night.
While traffic signals can be a solution, Britnell said it doesn't make people drive slower as many speed up when the light turns yellow and some run a red light. By contrast, a traffic circle leaves driver's with little choice but to slow down.
"I'm not asking you to slow down," Britnell said. "I'm making you slow down."
He estimates that a traffic circle slows down cars to 10-20 m.p.h.
Unlike a traffic signal, a circle promotes a steadier flow of traffic, saving gas and cutting down on the pollution caused by idling at a red light, according to Britnell.
Britnell showed a New York Times article that said 24,000 gallons of gas per roundabout are saved a year.
In an overhead presentation, Britnell showed photos of a traffic jam at an intersection in Ellington where five lanes of traffic converge.
"The delays here were notorious with traffic backed up as far as you can see," he said. "The town asked us to look at a traffic signal. We looked at reducing it from five to four legs with a roundabout. As soon as they did that, the traffic went away. The traffic is moving smoothly in that location."
A Roundabout in Monroe
Britnell showed a computer rendering of how a traffic circle could work in Monroe. Traffic heading north and south on Route 111 would slow down as it enters the circle — where traffic flows in a counterclockwise direction — and continue on. All traffic coming from 110 would turn right into the circle, either leaving it to head south on 111 or going all the way around to head north.
Britnell said the circle is meant to encourage right hand turns, which are safer than turning left. Traffic in the circle would have the right-of-way.
During a question and answer period, Mitch Beck asked who would decide how to landscape the island at the center of the circle. Britnell said the town would.
The DOT would do the initial landscaping, which could incorporate a fixture such as a flagpole or a sign welcoming people to town. But the town would be asked to maintain the landscaping afterward.
"I wouldn't want something like a fountain," Britnell said. "That could be a distraction too."
The circle would be about 130 feet in diameter, according to Britnell. It would also have truck aprons.
One problem the DOT grappled with was where Hurd Avenue is located, according to Britnell. The street would be so close to the circle that traffic could only turn right onto 110.
"No question there is a little inconvenience where Hurd Avenue is," Britnell said.
On Tuesday morning, First Selectman Steve Vavrek said he will call residents on Hurd Avenue about the issue.
If the town supports a traffic circle, Britnell said the DOT will pursue the funding. The cost of the project is estimated to be $2.5 million.
If the funding is granted, by the time rights-of-way are purchased and permits are secured, the soonest construction could begin would be 2015.
Britnell said it usually takes one construction season to build a traffic circle. A construction season runs from April to November.
'This Slows People Down'
Peggy Villani expressed concerns about people speeding toward the traffic circle from both directions on Route 111 and of drivers refusing to yield to traffic.
Patrick O'Hara, who lives along Route 110, said people often tailgate heading south on Route 111, so when a car turns left onto 110 it's hard to see the vehicle right behind it.
"I have a close call once a month," O'Hara said.
When he initially heard about the DOT plan for a roundabout, O'Hara said, "I wondered what you had in your water cooler." But he has since changed his mind. "You're going to slow down traffic and it looks like it makes sense. If you're going to slow people down, I'm for it."
State Rep. DebraLee Hovey (R-112) said she and the first selectman were concerned over how any change would effect the town center, which is in an historic district.
Aaron McGoldrick lives on the town green and said over a two year period he has had to replace his mailbox twice; that a sign post from the previous owner was knocked over by a speeding vehicle; and that he saw a trail of fluid from a car that struck a stump in his front yard.
Hovey said, "This slows people down. It sends them into that area at a more manageable speed. I hope everyone has an open mind about it. Not for nothin' Monroe, how often do we have something 100 percent funded? This can't become another 110 bridge issue. We can't have that here."
One man expressed concern that a traffic circle could make it more difficult for fire engines from the Monroe fire station on Shelton Road (Route 110) to access Monroe Turnpike.
Similar to other intersections, Britnell said traffic would have to leave the intersection before pulling over for a fire truck to pass.
Another resident asked about a past DOT plan to widen Route 111 to four lanes. Britnell said it was actually three lanes, but added, "With a roundabout, we don't need four lanes based on 20 year traffic volumes. I don't see where we would ever put in four lanes with this configuration."
Ronald Bunovsky Sr. noted that the examples of traffic circles Britnell showed were on relatively level land. He expressed concern over cars having to slow to a stop going downhill in Monroe, while manuevering the steering wheel during icy road conditions.
Lee Hossler recalled driving in New Jersey when he was a salesman. "I was always going in circles," he said. "So when I heard about this I was annoyed."
But Hossler was among several residents attending the hearing to change his mind on the issue.
"When you turn left onto Shelton Road, you take your life into your hands," Hossler said. "If I could vote on this. I would vote for it."