CHATHAM — Selectmen Tuesday were given three concepts for rebuilding the busy intersection of Main Street, Crowell Road and Queen Anne Road. But because the first choice made no major changes, and a roundabout was ruled out by engineers, the board chose option three: a wider intersection with new traffic lights and turning lanes on Route 28.
That concept will now begin a lengthy public comment and design process before selectmen either embrace the idea or send engineers back to the drawing board.
Engineer Keri Pyke with the design firm of Howard/Stein-Hudson said that, if not for the sloping terrain, officials would have recommended a roundabout to replace the current traffic signals. But the uneven ground would require a roundabout to be sloped inward toward its center, creating a drainage problem.
“We can't build that,” MassDOT Supervising Project Manager Tom Currier said. “To build a roundabout such that it would drain to the outside, which is what we need, would impact abutting properties quite drastically,” he said. “I don't think anybody wants that.”
The preferred concept is a widening of Route 28 near the intersection to allow left-turn lanes for traffic entering Crowell Road and Queen Anne Road, and modern traffic signals mounted to mast arm poles. The current traffic signals are hidden from view from several angles, Pyke noted.
Those turning lanes, together with more efficient traffic signaling, should help reduce some traffic backups along Route 28. Will it eliminate those traffic jams?
“I can't tell you that with a straight face,” Pyke said.
The replacement traffic signals would include phases that prevent head-on conflicts with vehicles making left hand turns on Crowell and Queen Anne, Pyke said. They would also include crossing signals for pedestrians, allowing safer use of new, handicap-accessible crosswalks and curb cuts. The concept also includes new sidewalks in various locations and a four-foot-wide shoulder for safer bicycle use.
Selectmen voted to move ahead with this preferred option, opening a 60-day public comment period. During that time period the town will hold an informational session when citizens can examine large project drawings and ask questions of engineers. When the comment period is closed, selectmen will hold another meeting to review the modified proposal and vote on a preferred concept to send to MassDOT. Engineers would then prepare a design, holding a public hearing on the 25 percent design phase next spring.
The improvements are scheduled for funding under the Cape Cod Transportation Improvement Program in 2021. Preliminary estimates put the cost of the work at nearly $2.8 million; all but $556,800 of that will come from federal highway funds. If the project is ready to go sooner, construction might be moved to an earlier year, should other projects drop out of the TIP.
Improving the intersection was one of the goals set out by the town's comprehensive plan. The crossroads suffers from unsafe conditions for bicycles and pedestrians, significant traffic queuing in the summertime, misaligned traffic lanes and small traffic islands that confuse motorists and impede the passage of fire apparatus exiting Depot Road.
Though design documents have not yet been prepared, preliminary indications are that some permanent easements will need to be obtained from property owners on Depot Road and possibly from the Unitarian Church. Most of the improvements will be carried out within the existing roadway layout, though the pavement will be widened.
Selectmen Chairman Cory Metters asked about construction impacts on local businesses. Pyke said the work would be “a little less impactful” than building a roundabout, and that it would be up to the contractor to ensure that property owners have access to their properties during construction. Metters also asked how the work would coincide with the West Chatham roadway reconstruction project.
“That will be substantially complete before this begins, I believe,” Currier said. If the intersection project is moved ahead in the TIP, “that would put a little pressure on the projects, perhaps overlapping a little bit,” he noted.
Selectman Amanda Love raised a number of questions about the conceptual plan, including the installation of short sections of sidewalk that do not connect to existing walkways. One such sidewalk would have been just a few feet long, on the corner of Crowell and Depot roads.
“It just seems like there are a lot of sidewalks going in that don't go anywhere,” she said. A planned sidewalk on the south side of Main Street near the church would end abruptly, causing pedestrians to have to cross in a more dangerous location near the post office.
Resident Elaine Gibbs urged for an ample public comment period, rather than forcing the project ahead in the middle of the summer. She also said she is “stunned” to see left-hand turning lanes in the plan, since eliminating the center turning lane was a centerpiece of the West Chatham project.
A date will be announced shortly for the upcoming public information session.