Middlebury backs signal to fix Court St. intersection
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday endorsed a fix for one of the most troublesome intersections on Court Street, a solution that would call for a realigned Charles Avenue to produce a four-way, signalized stop at Monroe Street.
The proposed solution relates to the inefficient traffic flow, driver confusion, pedestrian safety issues and periodic bottlenecks at what is really two intersections: the one where Charles Avenue meets the west side of Court Street, and the one a hundred feet south where Monroe Street meets the east side of Court Street. This setup, near the entrance of Middlebury Union High School, promotes inefficient north-south traffic flow through Middlebury, according to local officials.
With that in mind, the town — thanks to a municipal planning grant — hired the company Vanasse, Hangen, Brustlin Inc. to design options for improving safety for all intersection users, accommodating school transportation demands, reducing traffic congestion, and improving the connectivity of the bicycle and pedestrian network.
VHB consultants solicited public feedback last October and on Tuesday presented the Middlebury selectboard with three possible fixes to the intersection, including:
• A Charles Avenue roundabout. This would replace the existing traffic signal at the Charles Avenue-Court Street intersection with a single-lane roundabout. A new southbound left turn would be added on Court Street at the Monroe Street intersection. This solution would not change access to, or parking at, MUHS, according to David Saladino, who explained the plans to the selectboard. Estimated cost: $350,000, a figure that does not cover acquisition of adjacent property needed to implement the roundabout.
• A Monroe Street roundabout. This would replace both Court Street traffic signals with a single-lane roundabout. Charles Avenue would be realigned to intersect Court Street across from Monroe Street. School parking (or enhanced open space) would be created as a result of the relocation of Charles Avenue. Estimated cost of this option, excluding property acquisition: $980,000.
• A Monroe Street signal. This would result in removal of the existing Charles Avenue traffic signal and would realign Charles Avenue to intersect with Court Street directly across from Monroe Street. School parking (or enhanced open space) would be created through the relocation of Charles Avenue. Estimated cost, excluding property acquisition costs: $870,000.
Saladino and his VHB colleague Adam Portz noted the Monroe Street roundabout and traffic signal options also offer the potential for creating an access road from the campus to the soon-to-be-completed new recreational facility on nearby Creek Road. This, too, is not reflected in the current project estimates.
It should also be noted that the Vermont Agency of Transportation has not set aside funding for Middlebury’s Court Street intersection fix, so it could be several years before the problem receives attention.
“The big question is, ‘Where is the money going to come from?’” Saladino said.
The Middlebury selectboard voted 6-1, with Chairman Dean George opposed, to endorse the Monroe Street signal option. George voiced skepticism that a signalized intersection would perform better than a roundabout in moving traffic. He cited Middlebury’s Main Street roundabout as an example of a project that has successfully moved vehicles and pedestrians through a sometimes busy downtown.
But VHB officials rated the two roundabout options as having a level-of-service rating of “D” or “E,” while they gave an “A” to the Monroe Street signal plan. Saladino said a signalized intersection tends to be safer for pedestrians, as they can gather and eventually cross with no traffic with the change of the light. On the other hand, pedestrians tend to cross more randomly with a roundabout, picking gaps in traffic. And Saladino said that at the Court Street location, which features a lot of through traffic, a signal would move vehicles more efficiently than a roundabout.
The UD-3 school board endorsed the Monroe Street signal option back in December.
“I like what you’ve done here,” Selectman Nick Artim said of the study. “Alternative three (the Monroe Street signal) makes a lot of sense.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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