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More tweaks planned for Main Street traffic lights

BRATTLEBORO—Contractors will evaluate Brattleboro’s traffic signals in an attempt to reduce traffic snarls and improve road users’ feelings about traveling downtown.

The team is expected to arrive on Aug. 10 and stay for three days, said Public Works Director Steve Barrett.

At last week’s Selectboard meeting, board members and the public aired feelings of annoyances with the traffic light signaling project.

Selectboard members uttered a weary and unrehearsed “yay” when Town Manager Barbara Sondag announced that the board would discuss the downtown’s traffic issues.

The state replaced the town’s traffic signals last winter as part of a Route 5 repaving project. The project met with controversy in its earliest planing stages 12 years ago. Before the state started work last summer, residents took issue with the mast arm traffic signal design, concerned that the arms would ruin the town’s historical character.

Frustrations around the timing of the signals’ traffic and pedestrian flow have since swamped the earlier aesthetic concerns.

Selectboard Chair Dick DeGray said he felt the main “culprit” was the left-turn slip lane on lower Main Street leading to Route 142 and Hinsdale, N.H.

Many of the comments gathered through the town’s website also cited issues with the five-way intersection known as “Malfunction Junction.”

Mara Williams Oakes, chief curator for the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center, said that she has never seen worse traffic in her 22 years of working downtown. She suggested that the town relinquish its attachment to the idea of stopping all the traffic at an intersection when a pedestrian wants to cross.

Barrett said engineers from Moulison North Corp. of Maine, the firm that installed the lights’ control system, know it better than anyone. The state has also agreed to add on to its contract with the town to cover the contractors’ three days.

Representatives from Moulison told Barrett that new traffic signals often require “tweaking.”

“It’s important, because seconds make a difference [in traffic flow],” said Barrett.

Barrett said the engineers intend to observe traffic flow and adjust the signal times. All the traffic lights will be working, including the light at Flat Street, which engineers had set to flashing yellow.

He also reminded the Selectboard that the state is committed to making the traffic signals situation work, and that engineers with the Vermont Agency of Transportation had “warned against” the “exclusive pedestrian mode,” which stops all the traffic at the intersection.

“And that’s all okay, but it took away efficiencies of what could have been,” said Barrett.

In the future, the town can contract with Moulison to make further changes to the traffic signals once the state hands the project over to the town. The engineers cost about $125 per hour, he said. Barrett added he has about $500 in his budget.

“Even if it’s not a perfect system, it is a system,” said Barrett. “At some point, we have to talk about acceptance.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #113 (Wednesday, August 10, 2011).

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