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Two possible treatments for a stretch of Main Street (Routes 8 and 9) in Dalton are displayed in the main hallway at Nessacus Middle School on Tuesday evening.

Dalton Select Board Hears from Residents on Roundabout Idea

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Dalton Select Board Chair Joseph Diver addresses attendees at Tuesday's special meeting.
DALTON, Mass. — At a hearing to discuss a potential roundabout on Main Street, the Select Board on Tuesday heard opinions ranging from strongly in favor of the idea to strongly against to wait and see before taking a stance.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is weighing improvements to the stretch of Main Street where Routes 8 and 9 intersect South Street and West Housatonic Street.
Currently, there are two options on the table to address the area, one of the 5 percent most dangerous stretches in District 1 among roadways under MassDOT jurisdiction. One solution would improve signal equipment, signage and road alignment at both intersections; another would make those improvements at the junction with West Housatonic and create a roundabout at the junction with South Street.
Select Board Chair Joseph Diver told the crowd of about 50 in the Nessacus Middle School auditorium that the board wanted to hear from as many residents as possible before taking a vote planned for Sept. 27 to decide whether to recommend for or against the notion of a roundabout.
A couple of participants in Tuesday's special meeting of the board — including one Select Board member — said such a vote is premature.
"It appears the Select Board will be taking a position prior to the final hearing from MassDOT," Daniel Filiault wrote in an email read aloud by Diver at Tuesday's meeting. "The MassDOT report will come from trained professionals trained in traffic and engineering."
Filiault, who stressed in his email that he was writing as an individual and not on behalf of the town's Traffic Commission, which he chairs, said it is important to get the opinions of residents but that those opinions should be informed by the report that MassDOT will release — likely next spring or summer — when it reaches the 25 percent design phase on the project.
"I'm going to echo Mr. Filliault's comments," Select Board member Daniel Esko said. "I think it's premature for the Select Board to take a position."
But Diver argued that once the state agency gets to the 25 percent design point in the project, it will be difficult for MassDOT to change directions, a point that was supported by comments from the agency's District 1 project development engineer at Tuesday's hearing.
"We would certainly prefer not to go through the whole design effort to get to the 25 percent public hearing and then go backward," Mark Moore said. "But the whole purpose of the public hearing is to solicit input, including from people who couldn't make it tonight.
"[Changing the plan at that point] is a possibility, but it's not preferred."
The majority of the residents who testified at Tuesday's hearing preferred solutions that do not involve a roundabout.
"I've been traveling through that intersection for 27 years and haven't had a problem," South Street resident Joseph Albano said. "I think the state has a solution in search of a problem.
"I don't think it's worth the time or the money to make any radical changes."
Albano said there are things — like turn lanes — that could improve the intersection of South Street and Main Street, but he felt a roundabout would be a "make work project" to spend state money.
Several of those speaking against the idea of a roundabout noted that the traffic pattern can work in other locations but that it is inappropriate for that stretch of Main Street. A number of people expressed concerns about the time it would take to make such a radical change to the road and the delays that would be created during construction. Others emphasized the notion that traffic would back up from the stoplight to the east at the junction of Main Street and West Housatonic, creating a line of traffic that would clog up the roundabout.
Jacqueline Davis from Boston engineering firm HDR told the crowd that if the roundabout is installed, the light at West Housatonic will be fitted with a sensor that detects when traffic is backing up and extends the green signal for Main Street traffic to prevent such jams at the roundabout.
Davis also noted that whatever solution MassDOT chooses — with or without a roundabout — there will be construction work involved with improving the road alignment.
Not all of the residents at Tuesday's hearing disagreed with the idea of using a roundabout to replace the existing traffic light at Main and South and improve the intersection.
Tom King, who identified himself as a motorist, a cyclist, a motorcyclist and a pedestrian said that a roundabout would be "a solution to a problem that we have."
"Fewer and fewer people nowadays have any interest in obeying laws, obeying regulations," King said. "We have to start designing roads to take into account that we are sharing roads with people who don't give a hoot about obeying the law.
"If you're an anarchist who has no use for the law ... you don't care. You drive through stop lights, drive through stop signs, go through double lines to go around people who are obeying the law. … You can't avoid taking your foot off the gas and putting it on the brake when you come to a roundabout."
Richard Lacatell disagreed.
"If you're a bully with the present intersection, you're going to cause problems, but if you're a bully with the roundabout, you're going to cause problems," Lacatell said. "I think the stats are that accidents occur about once a month, and there are all sorts of reasons accidents occur.
"If you have drunk drivers, you'll have accidents on the roundabout the same as now."
Information about the MassDOT project is available here.

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