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

Great Barrington Town Manager Jennifer 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.

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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