WESTBROOK – After hearing initial cries of “no street light, no thanks” from many in the Duck Pond Road neighborhood, state officials have apparently changed some minds about a proposed roundabout as a traffic safety solution.

“I came in here thinking the traffic light was the only solution, but this [roundabout] is going to slow all traffic down. I’m 110 percent for this now,” said resident Marie Kimball.

Kimball and a group of nearly 100 residents in the Duck Pond Road neighborhood attended a meeting at the Highland Lake Grange Hall on April 10 to hear the state Department of Transportation’s proposed solution to the traffic problems at Duck Pond and Hardy roads and Route 302. Many believe the intersection has become more dangerous in the past several years. The only traffic control is a flashing traffic light, yellow on Route 302 and red facing Duck Pond and Hardy roads, along with stop signs.

Transportation department representatives Steve Landry, program manager, and Bruce Van Note, deputy director, were briefly introduced to the crowd by Mike Sanphy, the city councilor for the Ward 5, which includes the intersection.

“My opinion is, I don’t like a roundabout, I like a traffic signal with lanes,” Sanphy said in his opening remarks, which were met with cheers.

Sanphy has been pushing the state to fix the intersection, and arranged for a series of neighborhood meetings with the transportation department starting last fall.

But those cheers died down quickly after Landry said the state would not be building a traffic light at the intersection because a study determined that not enough cars were turning onto the side streets to warrant a traffic light.

“The volume wasn’t there to warrant a signal. We do not install if the warrant was not met. Many people think traffic lights are the end-all-be-all, but fatality rates are high at traffic signals,” Landry said.

At the beginning of the meeting, only a handful of people seemed in favor of roundabout in the intersection, including Eric Dudley, city engineer.

“When you come into a roundabout it’s a different situation. Everything is in constant motion, you have to slow down, you have to look, you have to yield. It’s more efficient,” Dudley said

While the two transportation department representatives did not have the figures from the study, which took place through two days in mid-September, they did say that without more turns, the light was not an option.

The study did not look at any future developments. Many residents sighted a new development in the area, along with two new athletic fields, that could increase traffic movement.

Landry said the state could come back and do another traffic study during summer months, when there was even more congestion in the roadways, but he still was not sure if the numbers would meet the requirement to install a traffic signal.

“I wouldn’t recommend it [a traffic signal],” said Landry. “I wouldn’t stop it, but my recommendation would be to go toward something else safer.”

Landry said traffic lights can create more accidents because people are often looking at the light to change instead of the road in front of them. Maine also has a high rate of drivers running red lights, according to Landry. Because traffic signals do not work to slow down the flow of traffic, like roundabouts do, vehicles traveling at higher speeds would create more serious injuries during a collision.

A roundabout, he said, would slow down all traffic in the intersection, decreasing chances of fatalities.

According to Van Note, the estimated cost of constructing a roundabout, which is smaller than a rotary, would be approximately $1.2 million.

The roundabout that would go in at the intersection would move the road slightly away from Highland Variety, the gas station at the intersection. The roundabout would measure approximately 125-130 feet in diameter, similar in size to the roundabout at Little Falls in South Windham, and would work to slow down traffic, making it safer for cars exiting and entering Duck Pond and Hardy roads.

While bicyclists would also see benefits to the roundabout, pedestrians would still have a difficult time crossing Route 302.

“I’ve been convinced tonight that a roundabout would make 302 easier and safer. If addressing a change that costs us seven digits, you should be considering the whole stretch of 302 down to Prides Corner. If you’re going to do it, you should do it right,” said resident Margaret Curtis.

Other residents also mentioned the issues along the Route 302 corridor that should be addressed, like long wait times and unruly traffic at Prides Corner.

Not everyone was convinced that a roundabout would be the safest solution and present the best outcome for traffic. Some suggested adding turning lanes from Route 302 and decreasing the posted speed limit, while others said waiting until the numbers met the standards for a signal would be the way to go.

“If we come in and paint turn lanes it’s not likely we would be back in a few years to put in a roundabout,” Van Note said.

Sanphy still isn’t sure a roundabout is the way to go.

“They haven’t convinced me. I want to see the [traffic study] numbers first,” he said. “I still like the lights. It’s inconvenient for some people to get around that thing. I want them to come back down with the numbers and convince me. I still think a light would be the most appropriate thing there, but we’ll wait for the figures and see what they come up with.”

Landry said the next step would be for the state to meet with city officials and try to come up with a consensus of what residents and elected officials would like to see and what the transportation department recommends as the safest and most cost-effective options.

The project is at least three years away from construction.

Traffic problems at the intersection of Duck Pond and Hardy roads and Route 302 could be solved with a roundabout, rather than new lights, according to state transportation officials at a meeting last week. Photo courtesy of Mike Sanphy

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