, Newburyport, MA

November 15, 2012

Merrimac's big makeover centers on new roundabout

By Warren P. Russo Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News

---- — MERRIMAC — The artistic application of $5 million worth of granite, stone and colorful textured surfaces will soon breathe new life into Merrimac’s tired town square, beautifying the heart of the community while also smoothing the flow of traffic.

While the current uncontrolled mix of multiple intersecting streets — West Main, Church, East Main and School streets — may have served the town well in the era of horse-drawn carriages, today’s faster pace requires a more modern approach. In the interests of efficiency and safety, roundabouts are the solution, say the experts.

“Right now, the town center is an open field of pavement,” said the project’s principal engineer, James D. Fitzgerald of WorldTech Engineering in Woburn, where he is the director of Municipal Engineering Services. WorldTech, which is something of a roundabout specialist, is also creating the Hines Bridge-Spofford Street-Moseley Pines roundabout in Newburyport.

According to Fitzgerald, the Merrimac plan is to reconstruct the entire town center, as well as significant segments of Route 110, to organize the traffic flow through the center. Some 3,000 feet of Route 110 on either side of town square, from West Main Street to East Main Street, will undergo a full-depth restoration of the roadway.

Similar full-depth roadway restorations will radiate outward from the square, extending 600 feet down both Church Street and School Street, as well as 300 feet down Lancaster Court.

“This project is long overdue in Merrimac,” said Fitzgerald. “Roundabouts are becoming more and more popular all over this area because it’s a safety issue.

“Roundabouts help the traffic flow in a more orderly fashion, calming down the traffic without resorting to the use of speed bumps and traffic lights.”

Merrimac’s town square renovation project is being financed with $4 million in state funding, plus a $1 million contribution from the town. By coordinating the town square renovation project with the installation of the town’s comprehensive new water system, Merrimac’s streets will only have to be excavated once.

The new roundabout, which is the central feature of the town square renovation, will feature a 20-foot-wide travel lane and a 13-foot truck apron. Roundabouts are generally used to slow down and smooth traffic flow in lightly traveled, densely populated areas, as contrasted with rotaries, which are designed to accommodate higher flows of faster traffic.

Merrimac’s town square plan also includes resetting the brick crosswalks, marking travel and bike lanes and installing new cement sidewalks and wheelchair ramps. Park benches, a flagpole, curved granite curbing and colorful crosswalks will also serve to dress up the square, making it more pleasant for residents as well as for those passing through town.