By Mac Cerullo
---- — NEWBURYPORT – Construction has commenced on the $1 million Spofford Roundabout project, which city officials hope will alleviate traffic at one of Newburyport’s most confusing intersections.
The roundabout will be built at the intersection of Merrimac Street, Moseley Avenue and Spofford Street near the Chain Bridge, an intersection that has long been notorious for its unusual traffic flow and right-of-way. Preliminary work began on Monday and Newburyport Police said that residents and commuters should expect delays.
Construction is expected to last throughout the year, with the final paving scheduled for completion by next spring. The impact on commuters should vary depending on the work, but according to police Marshal Thomas Howard, there won’t be any road closures this week.
Currently cars coming from Amesbury have the right of way to take a sharp left turn toward Newburyport, across two other intersecting roads. Cars coming from Newburyport down Merrimac Street also have the right of way to take a right towards the Hines Bridge, although drivers unaware of the road’s sharp turn have collided head-on with the stone wall in front of Moseley Woods more than a few times over the past few years.
When the project is done, the roundabout will take drivers counterclockwise around the intersection, making it significantly easier for drivers coming from Spofford Street or Moseley Avenue to pass through the area.
The project is part of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Small Bottleneck Grant Program, and DOT officials said that the program funds projects at about $1 million that do not score high enough to qualify for federal funding “but would result in significant improvements for the local economy, quality of life, safety and commute times.”
The project has been discussed for years, and funds were included in the $32.5 billion budget that Gov. Deval Patrick signed last spring. Mayor Donna Holaday made the project a priority.
City officials said the intersection would host a “roundabout” rather than a “rotary,” the difference being that a roundabout is used for slower traffic, while a rotary is placed in locations with vehicles traveling at higher speeds.
When the project was first announced back in November, state Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, said he was happy to see the contract coming to Newburyport and added that it will make life a lot easier for people who frequently travel through the area.
“A roundabout will make driving easier for those who travel across the river,” Costello said. “It should lessen the feeling of impending doom that you sometimes face when we are traveling there, and aren’t sure who has the right of way.”