Plans for a new roundabout at the intersection of Winter Street and Kingstown Way were met with tentative approval from residents at a public hearing Tuesday night.

The Massachusetts Highway Department first presented the idea for a roundabout to the Board of Selectmen in December. “This is one of our most dangerous intersections and has been for a long time,” said Highway Safety Committee Joseph Shea at the time.

On Tuesday, about 15 people were in attendance to hear the updated plans for the intersection.

Engineer John Diaz cited some concern regarding traffic congestion at the intersection, but said it wasn’t the reason Mass Highway decided to take this project on.

“This project is more of a safety issue,” he said, adding that it was difficult to cross Rte. 53 coming from Winter Street. “There are not a lot of breaks in the traffic to safely make it across.”

Diaz said that from 2004-2006 there were 11 accidents at the intersection. The problem, he said, isn’t so much the number of accidents as the frequency, which is much higher than similar crossings.

“We’re looking at this as a traffic calming measure,” he said.

Mass Highway did look at placing a traffic signal at the intersection, and several residents at the hearing asked if this was considered, but Diaz and other representatives said the a signal would be more costly and would require more land taking to create turning lanes. He also said the volume at the intersection doesn’t warrant a signal.

The plan for a roundabout –– which is different from a rotary –– is to force cars coming down Kingstown Way to enter the intersection at an angle, slowing them down. Diaz said designers want to bring approach and circular speeds down to 20 mph.

He said the intersection would be wide enough to accommodate a tractor trailer. The entire roundabout would have a diameter of 125 feet, and the roadway would be 18 feet wide with a two-foot shoulder and a 10 foot mountable truck apron. There would also be a landscaped center island, 65 feet in diameter.

There will be some utility relocation and tree removal, and there will have to be some temporary construction easements, said Diaz, although he said for the most part the roundabout will be built in the existing right of way.

Residents at the meeting seemed cautiously optimistic about the intersection, although some had questions about how much land would be taken and if their driveways would be blocked.

“This has been an inconvenience for a long time,” said Don Christenson. “You can’t cross the street in three minutes, there’s always something coming.”

Diaz said that the roundabout would hopefully eliminate long delays for drivers crossing Rte. 53.
“The traffic on that intersection’s got to be slowed down,” said Don Sjostedt.

Mike Papadopoulos of Mass Highway said the design is expected to be complete by fall of 2010, with construction finishing by the fall of 2011. The project will cost around $900,000 paid for by the state.

There will be another hearing when the plans reach a 75 percent complete phase, although no date was announced.