, Newburyport, MA

September 13, 2013

Tight fit at new roundabout

Granite islands, curbs causing problems for big rigs

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — 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.

Since the curb installation, there have been no major accidents, yet motorists are experiencing delays, especially during work commutes, as they get used to the new traffic pattern, according to police.

On Wednesday, according to a police officer working a detail, a 53-foot-long tractor trailer barely made it through the rotary. It wasn’t easy, he said, but the truck driver was able to complete the turn.

So far, the roundabout hasn’t proved to be a safety hazard in terms of fire coverage. Newburyport fire Deputy Chief Stephen Bradbury said so far there hasn’t been a need to send one of its ladder trucks throughout the rotary. But that’s not to say a problem couldn’t arise, Bradbury added, saying it might make sense to send a ladder truck through the rotary for a trial run before an actual emergency takes place.

In addition to the island curbing issue, construction vehicles have led to traffic backups and prompted a warning from the police department, via its Facebook page, to avoid the area unless you don’t mind being stuck in traffic. On Wednesday, work crews battled oppressive heat as they continued to install sidewalks and work on the island.

A nearby neighbor was seen handing workers water and Gatorade he purchased and placed in an ice-filled cooler. According to the resident, who didn’t want to be identified for this story, he hasn’t witnessed any issues with large vehicles traveling through the rotary. Minutes before saying those words, a reporter watched a school bus seamlessly pass through the rotary and drop off a student at a nearby house.

Holaday said work is expected to continue throughout the fall with the hope that it’s completed by the end of the year.