The CT Dept. of Transportation (DOT) is concerned about the high frequency of car accidents that occur at the intersection of Rte. 106/Wolfpit Rd. and Belden Hill Rd., and the state agency has identified it as a possible candidate for a traffic circle. At last night’s Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting, Capt. Rob Cipolla of the Wilton Police said that CT-DOT would like to hold a public informational meeting for residents as the first step in creating a “modern roundabout” where the two roads cross.
“They identified this area as high crash frequency, over the course of last three years, in particular the majority of them being angle type crashes, which can be the most severe in terms of injuries. In the last three years they had 19 MVAs (motor vehicle accidents) with 16 identified as angle collisions. Fortunately of the 16 only three resulted in injuries. But that’s how it came on their radar as a candidate for a modern roundabout,” Cipolla told the selectwomen and selectmen.
In 1996, CT-DOT originally identified it as a candidate for a signalized intersection, and approached the town then. Cipolla said the first selectman at the time, Bob Russell, declined, saying that the preferred focus for the town would be on widening Rte. 7.
“At that time, the issue was congestion, and you still see that issue today, as congestion and volume. Fast forward to today, we now have a safety issue with the congestion and collisions,” Cipolla said.
Roundabouts are not typical road features in Connecticut; Cipolla said there are only seven in the state right now, with 35 others in the CT-DOT design phase. They do have benefits, he said: “They reduce congestion by keeping traffic moving; they reduce emissions pollution by not having cars idling up in a queue at a stop sign; and they have been shown to significantly reduce head-on and T-bone collisions that are the most severe in terms of injuries.”
DOT first came out to the location in January 2017 to do an analysis of the intersection, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. that day. During that time there were 7,043 cars that moved through the intersection. The a.m. peak of traffic occurred between 8-9 a.m., with 1,480 cars passing through the intersection; the p.m. traffic peak happened between 5-6 p.m., with just under 1,400 cars passing through the intersection then.
“They believe a modern roundabout could be a solution to the issue at that intersection,” Cipolla said.
He added that both a roundabout and a signal would impact the neighborhood, with some minor property loss to nearby homeowners, but that a roundabout would impact them less than installing a signal at the intersection.
Selectwoman Lori Bufano said she drives through one of the seven other roundabouts every day during her commute to work, and called the experience “dicey.”
The roundabout Bufano travels is located in Greenwich and has been located there a long time–which Cipolla says makes it different than the kind of “modern” roundabout CT-DOT is considering for the Wilton intersection.
“There’s a different design than what you’re accustomed to,” he said. “There are raised islands as you’re approaching that force the vehicles to start bearing to the right to enter, and almost yield as they’re approaching. Sure there’s going to be aesthetic impact of what it would look like at that location, in terms of signs that are necessary to warn motorists of an oncoming modern roundabout,” he said.
Despite roundabouts being used so infrequently in traffic patterns in CT, Cipolla said CT-DOT believes 150 crashes have been eliminated and 100 injuries have been prevented in just the three years that roundabouts have been in service in the state.
Cipolla cited other statistics: nationally, the American Association of Highway Officials say that roundabouts reduce up to 78% of severe crashes and 48% of overall crashes; in Connecticut, there is not as much data, but it is believed to be safer than even a traffic signal.
Selectwoman Deb McFadden asked about the impact it would cause for snowplows. Cipolla noted that DOT would design the roadway to DOT standards, and to accommodate all types of vehicles, even those that wouldn’t typically use the intersection. But McFadden noted that similar islands at the Rte. 7/Rte. 33 intersection have curbs that get damaged by snowplows every year.
Chris Burney, director of Wilton’s Department of Public Works (who grew up in the UK where roundabouts are comment, joked that, “Things I grew up with 70 years ago are now called ‘modern,'”), said how impressed he is with the town’s plow drivers, and how they’d be okay handling the new roadway. He added, “If this is cut granite curbs, which most of the state ones are, they will survive any minor impact from the plows. I don’t think there’s a tremendous problem.”
Cipolla said that CT-DOT is interested in holding a town public information meeting to present more information and education of what a roundabout would conceptually look like and why they believe it would be a benefit to that location.
The BOS approved having Cipolla approach CT-DOT to arrange the public meeting, which will likely either happen this spring or next fall.