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September 13, 2013

Tight fit at new roundabout

Granite islands, curbs causing problems for big rigs

NEWBURYPORT — The Spofford Road roundabout project near the Chain Bridge may look like it is fully functional, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Until then, traffic backups will be plentiful and larger vehicles will have difficulty navigating the traffic-calming circle, according to city officials.

The culprit, at least in terms of maneuverability, seems to be elevated curbing ringing the center island. The curb stands about 4-6 inches above the pavement, causing large trucks to have to go up and over the curb.

Also, incomplete signage and ongoing construction have contributed to traffic delays.

City officials say the elevated curbing is only temporary and once the island is completely paved, the curb will only be 1 1/2 inches high, allowing truck drivers to hop on top of it and improve their angles. Department of Public Works Director Tony Funari said final paving should take place within three or four weeks.

The new roundabout replaces what had been a wide paved intersection that connected four roads. The intersection’s unusual traffic right-of-way pattern, and the abrupt end of Merrimac Street at a stone wall, had caused accidents.

The new traffic pattern is a circle that allows the car in the roundabout to have the right-of-way. It also forces cars to slow down and negotiate a cluster of traffic islands — whereas there used to be no traffic islands, now there are 12 separate islands, each surrounded by granite curbs.

The roundabout is expected to improve traffic flow and reduce safety concerns near the intersection of thoroughfares including Merrimac Street, Mosely Avenue and Spofford Street. Despite some concern that the roundabout will only make traffic worse in the western section of the city, Mayor Donna Holaday stressed that it will perform as advertised. The roughly $1 million project is part of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Small Bottleneck Grant Program.

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