WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Massachusetts Department of Transportation wants to know whether residents like the idea of a roundabout to address safety concerns at the junction of Routes 7 and 43 in South Williamstown.
The so-called Five Corners intersection features limited visibility for drivers entering the intersection from Route 43 either from the east (Green River Road) or the west (Hancock Road).
Currently, traffic on the east/west Route 43 is controlled by stop signs and a flashing red light. Motorists on the north/south U.S. Route 7 are controlled by a flashing yellow light and a widely ignored drop of speed limit at the approach to the intersection.
"I drive that intersection every day myself," said MassDOT District Project Development Engineer Mark Moore, who is based in the Lenox office. "I'm well aware of that [speed] issue. I cautioned our planners about that issue. But I don't think we have enough information at this time to fully assess that.
"There is, in theory, a speed reduction through the intersection but that, as everyone knows, unless the Williamstown Police Department happens to be sitting there, the control is almost non-existent."
Roundabouts — also known as rotaries or traffic circles — are known to reduce crash severity and reduce the likelihood of a crash. One was constructed in Adams at the difficult intersection of Route 8 and Friend Street several years ago.
"The number of fatal and serious injury crashes is likely to decrease by approximately 87 percent," according to data on a website
created by Mass DOT to explain the proposal.
That website is being used by the state agency as a "virtual meeting," where residents can register, get information about the proposal and, through Feb. 3, comment on the idea.
Mass DOT's intention is to get the temperature of the community about the idea of a roundabout before making the financial investment in serious engineering, Moore said.
"It all depends on how the comments come out on the first presentation," he said. "If we have a resounding opposition, I suspect the project will just end at that point and we'll go back to the drawing board for other potential mitigation and come back to the public with a different plan.
"If it's split, I think we'll go into some further development of the plans and go back to the public in the future with development plans. We always have a design public hearing, too. Any project would have a design public hearing."
Other mitigations that could be used include increased signage and elimination of the "slip lanes" used by turning traffic at the intersection.
One thing likely off the table: adding the town's second stop light.
"The intersection doesn't warrant a stop light," Moore said. "The traffic volume is not significant enough. Although there have been very serious accidents there, they don't happen with enough frequency to warrant a traffic light for a safety measure.
"What we need to do is fix the sight line problem. [A roundabout] would be one way of mitigating the sight distance coming off Route 43. … I don't know if there are other solutions. The sight distance is difficult to mitigate given the amount of earth in agricultural land that is blocking the sight lines."
Routes 7 and 43 are under the jurisdiction of MassDOT. The town has no role in deciding how the issues ultimately are resolved, Town Planner Andrew Groff said on Monday.
Transportation officials hope that the comments recorded by the virtual meeting will give it a sense of whether the concept of a roundabout has support in the community.
"This is all new," Moore said of the virtual meeting. "I think COVID protocols have drastically changed our business model. We don't have a great deal of information on the virtual meeting format to know how it's going to work.
"Out east, there have been successful projects that have run on this model. I think this is probably the first time we've done it in our district."
The MassDOT virtual meeting can be accessed here.