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This busy intersection of Routes 7, 41 and 23 in Great Barrington, familiar to tens of thousands of South County residents and other passersby, will turn into a traffic circle if the state Department of Transportation gets its way. Photo courtesy Google Maps

Busy intersection will be transformed — in a ‘roundabout’ way

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By Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018 News 27

Great Barrington — Those who regularly pass through the intersection of Main Street (Routes 7, 23 & 41) and Maple Avenue (Routes 23 & 41) will be in for quite a surprise over the next couple of years.

That’s because the state Department of Transportation has decided to change the way traffic flows through the intersection by constructing a roundabout to replace the existing traffic lights. 

The intersection, which is where Route 7 north joins routes 23 and 41, is heavily traveled and is the major route into Great Barrington from both the west and the south. 

“MassDOT owns that intersection of 7 and 23 at the police station,” town manager Jennifer Tabakin told the selectmen Monday night. “They have a project to reconfigure that intersection and they’ve proposed a concept of a small roundabout that eliminates the traffic lights.” 

The intersection of routes 7 and 23 in Great Barrington is set to become a roundabout. Photo courtesy Google Maps

In an email, MassDOT spokesperson Victoria Mier confirmed the plan. She also emphasized that it will be a roundabout and not a rotary.

Both are forms of traffic circles but a roundabout typically has one lane while a rotary is larger, has more than one lane and allows for changing of lanes as well, according to the federal Department of Transportation.

“MassDOT is scheduled to advertise the project in FY 2020,” Mier said. “The project is currently at 25 percent design and MassDOT is intending to move forward with a roundabout alternative (it will not be a rotary).”

Mier said she would provide more information later in the day but had not done so by deadline. The information will be added later to this article if it arrives.

Tabakin said the town had not requested the change but that eventually there would be a public hearing and a presentation by state officials, though she could not yet say when. The selectmen were aware of the plan but some were skeptical of the concept.

Great Barrington Selectman Ed Abrahams. Photo: David Scribner

“It comes under ‘it ain’t broke but they’re going to fix it,” quipped Selectman Ed Abrahams.

“They’ll make it worse,” added Steve Bannon, who chairs the board.

There are few roundabouts in Berkshire County. One was completed two years ago in Adams at the intersection of Route 8 and Friend and Renfrew streets, evidently as a traffic-calming measure.

A MassDOT blog post on the the project said it cost $1.4 million and included new sidewalks, landscaping, granite curbs and pavement markings.

“MassDOT contractors worked with the Town and area businesses in designing the intersection improvements to improve traffic flow and safety at the busy intersection,” wrote MassDOT official Klark Jessen.

A similar roundabout on Route 8 in Adams has ‘improved traffic flow and safety at the busy intersection,’ according to MassDOT. Photo courtesy Google Maps

The blog also quoted Dan Maloney, the president of McAndrews-King Buick GMC, the auto dealership at the former intersection. 

“The completed roundabout not only looks great, but it also works very well,” Maloney said. “It has slowed traffic down making it safer for everyone. It is now much easier for vehicles coming on to Route 8 from Friend Street.”

It is not known whether the Great Barrington intersection is the scene of an unusual number of crashes. Police Chief William Walsh, whose office is right next to the traffic light, could not be reached for comment. But this author has traveled through that intersection almost every day for four years and cannot recall seeing a crash during that time.

It seems that the traffic light is triggered so that the default is for motorists on Route 7 (Main Street) to see a green light unless the camera detects a vehicle on Maple Avenue. If there is a long line of cars entering Route 7, the Maple Avenue light stays green until there is a break in traffic.

Those who are familiar with the area will speed down Maple Avenue to the intersection so as to avail themselves of the green light before it turns red from the absence of vehicles. This results in vehicles approaching the intersection from the west at a relatively high rate of speed, then having to turn suddenly left onto Main Street. 

There is also technically a roundabout in Williamstown in front of the Williams Inn at the intersection of routes 2 and 7, but it is oval-shaped and has a spacious park in the interior that includes a historic house. Williamstown is also studying a potential roundabout at the intersection of Main and Water streets. 

South Main Street redo

In other construction news, Tabakin also said MassDOT’s project review committee has approved an initial application for a $6.9 million rebuild of Main Street from Saint James Place to the area of the Claire Teague Senior Center and National Grid office on Route 7.

“This is the first step to be eligible for transportation improvement funds, which takes several years to get that planning process through, so this is an extremely positive step,” Tabakin said. “This follows the selectboard’s directions to include this on the transportation improvement plan.”

This portion of South Main Street in Great Barrington is part of a proposed a $6.9 million rebuild of Main Street from Saint James Place to the area of the Claire Teague Senior Center and National Grid office on Route 7. Photo: Heather Bellow

The scope of work includes new flat sidewalks on both sides of the street, “with a curb that is not sharp,” Tabkin explained, and it would be picking up where the legendary $6 million Main Street reconstruction project of 2014–16 left off.  

“This will make the area walkable from the senior center to bagel store,” Tabakin continued, “so you’ll be able to walk on either side and be able to link those two areas of the town together.”

Unlike the Main Street reconstruction, which was a combined effort of the town and the state, the South Main Street project will be a state project with all contracts signed exclusively by MassDOT. The latter project also does not include the roundabout, which Tabakin said “will be done sooner than this South Main Street project.”

Makeover for School, Church, Bridge and Railroad streets to start before the winter

Finally, Tabakin disclosed that a notice to proceed has been given to Northern Construction, the successful bidder on the $2.1 million makeover of School, Church, Bridge and Railroad streets.

An aerial view of downtown Great Barrington, with the areas to be improved highlighted in red. Railroad Street is at the top of the map; Bridge Street and Bentley Avenue are at the bottom. Image was released in May and is courtesy town of Great Barrington

While it is strictly a town project, a MassWorks infrastructure grant from the state will pay for $1.9 million of the cost, with the town picking up the extra $200,000. Tabakin did not have a timeline for the work but suggested work on School and Church streets would begin before the winter, a little later than expected, with Bridge and Railroad beginning the following spring or summer.

Click here for an article on a town workshop on the project held in May. It includes video of the workshop.

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27 Comments   Add Comment

  1. John says:

    1.4 million dollars for a poor solution in search of a problem.
    What an incredible waste of taxpayer dollars. An absolute display that big government has more money than brains, snd clearly cannot set priorities.
    So, how far would 1.4 million dollars go to assist seniors that can’t pay property tax bills or choose between food and heating oil or healthcare????
    Shaking my head. Clearly a bigger government is a bigger problem

  2. Mike DeBruicker says:

    They should put this roundabout in Stockbridge by the RLI, where it might actually help.

    1. John says:

      Mike, that is a very good suggestion.

      1. Marji says:

        I am with you John. Not sure what all of us can start doing to put a stop to this BUT need to do something.

    2. Tim Newman says:

      Totally agree! That would be a real improvement!

  3. Ed Abrahams says:

    Before we (including me) start criticizing DOT’s traffic planning, maybe we should listen. After all, they are the ones who have the numbers and they have been studying the area.

    Maybe they know something we don’t. Maybe they have goals we don’t understand yet.

    We (including me) should listen before we talk. As noted in the article, there will be a hearing where we will have an opportunity to listen and hear facts and ask questions before we criticize.

    I owe DOT an apology.

  4. W.C. says:

    What has come to be standard GB policy, if it’s not broken lets’ fix it”. A huge waste of taxpayer money.

    1. basil says:

      I don’t think this was GB’s idea.

  5. dennis irvine says:

    My concern is this will be tailored for car culture and less for pedestrian/bicycle complete streets goals. Well designed single lane roundabouts can improve safety for pedestrians and bicycles, but double lane roundabouts rarely do.

    1. Joseph Method says:

      In the article it says that it will be a one lane roundabout, and actually says that a roundabout is defined as one lane and a rotary is more lanes. Today I learned!

      1. dennis irvine says:

        Yes, I saw that it said roundabouts typically have one lane. Rotaries are larger, often have two lanes and allow lane changing. I’m having some trouble visualizing the 5, or 6, different current lanes and directions of traffic flow merging into a small roundabout, without the ability to change lanes, while also having two crosswalks.

      2. Joseph Method says:

        Yeah I see now that roundabouts can have multiple lanes but don’t allow lane changing. I found this helpful: http://www.cityofbrooklyncenter.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/331

      3. dennis irvine says:

        Thanks Joseph, that was helpful and interesting. I tried to visualize the two diagrams with 3 entering roads not 4 as pictured and I keep thinking that the only change from what is there now will be the addition of a circular island and, maybe, yield signs? instead of lights? I remain unsure how that will help. Is jamming traffic the same as calming traffic? In my experience as a bicycle commuter, traffic tends to rush after the light, when heading North-speeding pretty fast and seeking lane ‘advantage’ as it head down the slight grade into GB center(by Searles Castle wall). I sort of expect cars that have been ‘calmed’ through the ‘rouda-whatever’, will be possibly more frustrated than they currently are by the light set-up and will bolt to get the lane they want coming into town. It seems like a structure that will need a fair amount of space, the island will use up lane space that we currently have, and the ‘flow impact’ is really unclear. Despite suggestions to not draw conclusions and listen before we speak, which might be fitting prohibitions for town officials, I think everyday users of the intersection should express their concerns, even without full information from DOT yet, because this preliminary dialog helps air multiple viewpoints and might shed light on a very unclear proposal. The two downhill lanes heading into GB are the most dangerous and ‘m not convinced this will lessen that.

  6. Robert Beusman says:

    The intersection in question is really shabby, an awkward entry to town. A similar scale project was done at the entry to Northampton and looks, works great.

  7. nancy F says:

    The light in front of the police station is a disaster. As Terry describes, its timing varies depending on the traffic. I have found myself going through red lights because the yellow was fleeting.

    Any chance this plan returns the left turn arrow for Taconic Avenue? The town planners had no idea why THEY eliminated it!

    1. Jerry says:

      So it’s the light’s fault that you are running it?

  8. Sherri Klinghoffer says:

    I pass through that intersection daily and have never had a problem with the traffic flow and traffic lights. Roundabouts work well on small residential streets to calm traffic near private homes. But, on busy route 7 and 23 it seems extremely impractical. Roundabouts lead to a lot of confusion for drivers. Who goes first? And people in a hurry are never polite when driving around them! I have a masters in urban planning and I am not a fan of roundabouts!

  9. Wendy T. Linscott says:

    Unlike the state engineers, I drive through that intersection several times a day, virtually every day. I encounter no problems. I strongly suspect that “fixing” it will create problems. I offer – as an example of a disasterous “fix” – the entry to downtown from the north since the redo of Main Street. In summer, traffic is routinely backed up almost to Belcher Square. The Selectboard is right to be dubious about this new project – don’t fix what ain’t broke – especially using money badly needed to repair serious infrastructure problems.

    1. John says:

      Well said Wendy.
      Unfortunately, this will likely be the case where a town meeting is held, the state will provide the illusion of really caring in order to check the box, yet then do whatever they want.
      This is taxpayer money, not free money, that could be much better spent, or better yet, not spent at all.
      The big government mindset of, spend it or you loose it, needs to change. Taxpayers first.

  10. John Cheek says:

    I think the roundabout is an excellent idea. Cars on Rt 7 often run the red light. Vehicles northbound on 7 turning left onto 23 W especially trucks try to turn after the red light but oncoming right turning southbound traffic still has a green arrow. The constant green for this right turn also creates danger for pedestrians crossing 23 as they cannot see cars making that right on the green arrow.

  11. Brian Tobin says:

    Let’s wait and see… I go through that intersection 2-4 times a day. It’s not perfect but I’d like to hear the arguments for and against an expensive roundabout before I make up my mind. Hopefully the public hearing will allow input from ALL local residents (Mount Washington, Egremont, Alford, Hillsdale, Sheffield, Canaan, etc) and not just Great Barrington.

  12. Joseph Method says:

    I wonder if part of the thinking is that the circle would calm traffic going into Great Barrington proper. It seems like it would help take people out of the highway mindset.

  13. Linda says:

    Just what we need more construction!

  14. bc says:

    Perhaps MA DOT could rethink the intersection of Main and Taconic instead of focusing on a roundabout. They’ve eliminated the left turn arrow from Main to Taconic. Backs up traffic because no one can make a left hand turn, especially someone needing to get to the hospital quickly. And, while they’re rethinking the traffic flow, maybe they could put some thought into the Brown Bridge. One single truck that can’t make the right hand turn onto the bridge also backs up the traffic flow. Move the stop line back to the beginning of the bridge for traffic coming into town, and then trucks would be able to make the wide swing onto the bridge.

    1. Craig Okerstrom-Lang says:

      In GB the biggest intersection issue is the Brown Bridge. MA DOT should spend their (and our) resources on the most critical areas in town. The Rt 23 and Rt. 7 intersection works fine. The only issue is that the pedestrian crossing lights have never worked for the Maple Avenue /Rt 23 crossing.

  15. Lawrence Davis-Hollander says:

    So let me get this straight. If we eliminate the red light than no one can run it?

    Maybe we should eliminate all red lights ?????

  16. bc says:

    What red light are you referring to? There is no mention of red lights in my comment.

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