Division persists on board over pursuing possible roundabout in Stockbridge
STOCKBRIDGE — Solving traffic congestion and safety fears at two accident-prone intersections appears to be in the slow lane.
During this week's Select Board meeting, members were divided over the idea of whether to pursue the prescribed roundabout at the four-way intersection by the Red Lion Inn, where two state highways and a local road meet.
Selectman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo seemed satisfied with the recommendations and cautioned against tinkering with them too much, but Selectman Terry Flynn was wary of the proposal, citing the costs and potential to diminish the charm of the historic downtown streetscape.
"We just need to slow down and do the simple things we can do, and not go to the drastic things until we've really checked this out," Flynn said.
The traffic study, commissioned by the town, recommended a modern roundabout at the Red Lion intersection and a reconfigured T-type intersection for the convergence of Routes 7, 102 and Vine Street at the firehouse just east of downtown.
Transportation Engineer Juliet Locke of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, who compiled and presented the report last month, described the intersections as two of the most accident-prone in the county. She pointed out that because of 25 major accidents at each one over the past five years, the Red Lion site is now "on the state's radar" for priority attention.
"I think it's a very good study," Cardillo said. "I'm very pleased with it and I think the plan should be put in pretty much as is, maybe with a few minor changes. I don't think we should tear it apart, because it all flows together."
Cardillo, also the town's fire chief, suggested first determining how residents want to proceed, "or if they just want the state to come in and do their thing."
But in Flynn's view, the historical nature of downtown Stockbridge is "the reality of Norman Rockwell's Main Street painting, an image of something that no longer exists in a way, but there's a vestige of that quieter, simpler town and the monuments there are part of that older, more settled life. So, it's not a light thing to be putting a roundabout in that part of town."
He credited Police Chief Darrell Fennelly, who signaled the need for the report last year, for "due diligence" and for taking actions "that have made the situation safer and better already" such as a cruiser presence downtown for "heightened awareness."
Flynn also argued that "this whole idea that we're high on the state's list is actually kind of a misleading view" and he discouraged "spending more money than we need to, to address this situation."
"We're not bound to do any of the study or all of the study," he said.
Rather than pursue a roundabout, Flynn suggested removing a third stop sign that was added at the intersection a few years ago in an effort to address driver "indecisiveness."
He called for a return to a two-way stop sign, one on South Street (Route 7) for northbound motorists heading into Stockbridge, and the other directly across on Pine Street, because it would "honor" the flow of east-west traffic along Main Street, removing indecision and "honor normal right of way methods of driving."
He stressed that he would "hate to see us do a cookie-cutter kind of thing that the state's been promoting in a lot of towns across the state" such as bump-outs, because "it would make a simple town street a highly organized town street."
He cautioned against "state standards and requirements" that would accompany a costly "rotary solution" resulting in "a loss of control."
But Flynn endorsed the traffic study's suggested remedy for the firehouse intersection as "a very sensible idea" that includes building a short connector road just north of the fire station as part of a T-intersection with Route 7 north, Vine Street and Route 102.
Cardillo pointed to the traffic study's finding that local drivers use the driveway behind the fire station as a "cut-through to either avoid maneuvering through the intersection or to potentially navigate the intersection in a safer, more time-efficient manner."
The study noted that the cut-through behind the firehouse contains a residential driveway accessing a property to the north.
"Vehicles using the fire station as a cut-through route are putting themselves at risk and potentially slowing the response time of the emergency responders," the report stated.
Cardillo pointed out that the study includes a long-term suggestion that the firehouse be relocated to a nearby vacant parcel. Instead, the fire chief suggested blocking off the cut-through, a proposal that Flynn opposed.
"Do you want to wait until somebody gets run over and then change it?" Cardillo asked. "It's not a safe situation and never has been. The traffic has increased there greatly."
Select Board Chairman Donald Chabon suggested to Fennelly and Highway Superintendent Leonard Tisdale that "they pick out things we can do without much consideration and expense, and see if we can begin with that."
But Cardillo warned that "if we do a limited amount of stuff, what would the state do? Would the state accept that? It's their intersection. At least here we have some say."
He cited a planned $1.5 million state project for a roundabout in Great Barrington at Route 7 where it meets Routes 23 and 41 (Maple Avenue) south of downtown — apparently undertaken with no or minimal town government involvement.
Chabon proposed a "walk-through" to explore downtown Stockbridge traffic problems as a publicly posted Select Board site visit on a date to be determined, followed by a public input session to gauge townspeople's reaction to the traffic engineer's recommendations.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
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