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A landscape plan for the planned roundabout at the junction of Routes 7 and 43 in South Williamstown.

Williamstown Conservation OKs Five Corners Roundabout Project

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Conservation Commission last week gave the green light to a long-discussed roundabout for the Five Corners intersection in South Williamstown.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation was before the commission with a notice of intent to undertake a multiyear project to reconfigure the intersection of Routes 7 and 43.
Since the work takes place near the north branch of the Green River, the Con Comm has the jurisdiction of ensuring the project will not disturb the resource area.
Prior to last week's local hearing, MassDOT already received a review from the commonwealth's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, which found that the work would not "adversely affect the state protected resource area habitat of rare wildlife species," Sara Kreisel, a civil engineer with of BSC (Build, Support Connect) Group of Boston, told the commission.
Kreisel led a team of consultants working for MassDOT in explaining the project to the commissioners, who held a site visit to the intersection prior to Thursday's hearing.
"While the project's goal is to improve the intersection, MassDOT intends to take the opportunity to improve stormwater management in the vicinity," Kreisel said. "As a redevelopment project which will not significantly increase the amount of impervious area to the site, the proposed design meets the stormwater standard to the maximum extent practicable."
Kreisel said the project, when all is said and done, actually will add 24 percent more pervious (i.e. unpaved) surface to the intersection, in part because the center of the roundabout itself will be a natural, landscaped surface.
The reconfiguration of the intersection also will add a little land to the town-owned and Con Comm-managed Bloedel Park on the southwest corner of the intersection and make that park slightly more accessible by creating a pedestrian path from the park to the Store at Five Corners property across Route 7.
"A recent study indicated the number of car crashes at the intersection is well above the average in the DOT district," Kreisel said. "The proposed project … will improve vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian safety."
The MassDOT consultants told the commissioners that the agency's plan is to put the project to bid this August with an anticipated start date in spring 2024. If all goes according to plan, the roundabout could be finished by December 2025, the consultants said.
The agency's representatives indicated the work would be staged to allow the flow of traffic during construction.
MassDOT's construction plan is designed with six stages.
"Each stage, we ran tractor trailer templates through there to make sure they can get through and make the turns during construction," engineer John Mahoney of Toole Design told the commission.
One part of the plan that the MassDOT representatives did agree to change after Thursday's hearing was its landscaping strategy.
Commissioner Henry Art expressed concern about some of the exotic species he saw in the agency's plan and offered a number of native species as alternatives.
The MassDOT consultants agreed to redo the landscape plan and resubmit to the town for review with those concerns in mind.
A couple of commissioners also asked about the design that showed tall plantings in the center of the roundabout that could obscure the view of drivers.
Mahoney explained that is by design because the intent is to have drivers focus on the circular traffic coming at them from the left as they enter the traffic circle rather than vehicles off in the distance
"We're suggesting trees for the ornamental value but also to block those sightlines and focus the driver's attention," Mahoney said..
Mahoney went on to say that while adding an obstruction may sound counterintuitive from a safety standpoint, the plantings are another traffic calming feature of the new design.
A March 2022 MassDOT publication titled "Guidelines for the Planning and Design of Roundabouts" talks about the role of the intersection's center island.
"The key function of the inner central island landscape is to alert approaching drivers to the change in roadway geometry and guide them around the roundabout intersection," the publication notes. "It is typically, mounded and/or planted to enhance its visual prominence."
Although Thursday's approval allows MassDOT to put the project to bid and line up contractors, those contractors will be back before the commission before work begins.
One of the conditions set by the Con Comm on Thursday was that it will review the construction company's plan for laydown areas around the riverfront area before work begins.

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GET LOUD: A Celebration of Banned Books

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — On Sunday, Oct. 1, the Williamstown League of Women Voters in collaboration with the David and Joyce Milne Public Library and the Friends of the Milne Library are presenting Get Loud: A Celebration of Banned Books.
A group of nine authors, performers, teachers, and local individuals will read aloud selections from books currently or previously banned in US libraries and schools. Introducing them will be authors Karen Shepard and Jim Shepard, both on the English faculty of Williams College.
This performance was initiated by the Williamstown League of Women Voters with the goal of bringing together organizations and individuals with a strong interest in the importance of free speech and artistic freedom. 
The event is intended to raise awareness of the history and practice of government censorship, and to give the community an opportunity to experience firsthand the power and joy of good writing.
"One of our goals is to dramatize the importance of the books that have come under attack historically and also recently in some schools and public libraries," said League representative Jane Nicholls. "We hope bringing together an impressive group of artists will help remind us all that the freedom to write and to read is crucial to all other freedoms."
Participants selected their readings from a list supplied by Milne Library Director Pat MacLeod, which cataloged books being  banned from some school libraries and reading lists. The selections include passages from "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, "Bridge to Terabitha" by Katherine Paterson, "Ceremony" by Leslie Marmon Silko, "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, and "Dear Martin" by Nic Stone.
Mt. Greylock Regional High School teacher Rebecca Tucker-Smith will read from "The Color Purple," and also recite excerpts from her students’ responses to the book.
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