Roundabout Preferred Over Proposed Downtown Intersection Plan

By: Debra Lawless

Nathaniel Cabral-Curtis of Howard Stein Hudson explains upgrades at the Route 28-Crowell Road intersection to a resident. DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO

CHATHAM – At a public information meeting Monday evening on the Crowell Road Intersection Improvement Project, local residents critiqued the plan that selectman blessed in August for improving the intersection of Crowell Road and Route 28.

While residents generally agree that the intersection is antiquated and dangerous, several of the roughly 40 people at the meeting at the town hall annex said they favored a roundabout rather than the plan to expand the intersection that selectmen unanimously voted in favor of.

“We’re going to be bringing East Harwich to Chatham, and I want to sound the alarm on that,” resident Rick Leavitt said, showing a photograph of the busy intersection of Route 137 and Orleans Road in East Harwich and suggesting Chatham’s intersection will resemble that. He said the proposed changes in Chatham bring up “serious concerns among historical preservationists in town” and added that the proposed plan for the intersection “changes the whole historic small-town feel.”

An open house preceded the 5 p.m. meeting. Residents were invited to examine two alternative plans for the intersection where Main Street (Route 28), Crowell Road, Queen Anne and Depot roads meet. The goals of the $2.8 million state and federal highway project are improving safety in a busy area that has a higher-than-average number of accidents, adding bicycle and pedestrian lanes and crosswalks, improving drainage, enhancing the streetscape and allowing vehicles to access abutting properties that include the CVS, Chatham Village Market and the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House. Since 2015 the engineering and planning firm Howard Stein Hudson (HSH) of Boston has been studying the area and working on a solution. The first option is to do nothing. Option 2 is a roundabout and Option 3 is an upgraded traffic system with left turning lanes.

A public session was held in June; in August the selectmen voted to favor Option 3, the expanded intersection.

Keri Pyke, HSH principal of planning and public involvement, described, in a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation, why HSH prefers Option 3 over a roundabout. The main objection to a roundabout is the uneven grade of the road. Building a roundabout in this spot would create a “kind of rollercoaster effect,” Pyke said. A second issue is drainage. Water would collect in the center of the roundabout, flooding during heavy rains and freezing in the winter. If catch basins were installed, a truck would have to service them from the center of the roundabout, which would be difficult. A roundabout would also require taking more land from abutters than would the expanded intersection.

Under Option 3, new signal lights would be installed. Left turning lanes would be added to Route 28 in both directions. Sidewalks would be added all the way around, with pedestrian countdown crossing lights. Islands would have curb cuts to allow wheelchairs and baby strollers to roll onto them. A five-foot shoulder would be added on Route 28 for bicycles. And for fire and EMS vehicles that had to enter the intersection, a signal change to green would “flush out traffic” so they could move through freely.

The bottom line? “Traffic will go through better than today,” Pyke said.

Edmund Robinson, minister of the church which overlooks the intersection, said his number one concern is safety. In 2009 a couple crossing the road from the Chatham Village Market parking lot to the church were hit by a car. Robinson advocated a raised sidewalk and speed bump on Queen Anne Road. He also said he preferred a “mini-roundabout” similar to one recently installed in Orleans.

Tom Currier, supervising project manager of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT), said the DOT looked extensively into a roundabout and that it will not work here.

Resident Elaine Gibbs critiqued the project, saying that left turning lights would “double” the duration of traffic lights, creating further traffic jams in the summer. She also said mast arm lights—an overhead type of traffic signal—have an urban look that is out of keeping with Chatham. In response, Pyke said the design can be tweaked so that black fluted light poles are used.

“This design shows no consideration of either context or character,” resident Gloria Freeman said, adding that the mast arm lights were “jolting.” She suggested that if the engineering firm’s design doesn’t fit the character of the site, maybe the changes aren’t worth the taxpayer dollars or the disruption.

Resident Margaret Tompsett said she believed the plan for the roundabout should be revisited. And resident Steve Buckley suggested that residents deserve to see all documents pertaining to the proposed changes so they can properly assess them. He questioned why a public comment session was being held after the selectmen already chose Option 3.

John O’Toole, chair of the Chatham Bikeways Committee, advised that due to a new on-road bike trail, the intersection will see “considerably more bike traffic.”

The comment period on the proposal has been extended until this Friday, Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. Comments and requests for further information can be made to Nathaniel Cabral-Curtis at ncabral-curtis@hshassoc.com. In November the selectmen are expected to authorize an improvement plan that they will send to the DOT. Engineers will then prepare a design and hold a public hearing next spring. Construction is expected to start during the winter of 2020-21. For more information visit www.chathamcrowellroad.info.