Dylan J. Baker

Staff Writer

MANCHESTER - More than forty years in the discussion and the planning, the long-awaited Roundabout project opened to traffic late last week. Then, just as suddenly, it was closed down again.

But that closure was only for a brief 12 hour period between 2 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, in preparation for the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Sandy. The shutdown allowed Shultz Construction Co., the lead contractors for the project, to accelerate their paving schedule to ensure the storm wouldn't degrade some of their earlier work.

Tricia Hayes, the projects public information officer, said that they were worried about the impacts and possible destruction that Hurricane Sandy would bring.

"The paving was not scheduled until mid-week, but we were quite worried about any kind of erosion that might result as a result of Sandy and it was important to get that base and binder course on there to preserve it the best we could," said Hayes.

Hurricane Sandy was expected to bring high winds and possibly heavy rain. However, according to Hayes, there was no damage done and construction is back on schedule.

Shultz Construction will begin a slow restart to the project to make sure that there was not any damage done to the project, she said.

The storm halted construction until Wednesday, but will resume the final stages of the process before the end of construction season.

"There is still some more paving, plus we still have to do the splitter islands," said Hayes. "That will resolve some of the traffic issues we have been experiencing. We still have the expected street lights to go in and more sidewalk to be finished."

Along with pouring concrete to finish the sidewalks, installing some street lights, and constructing the splitter islands, more work will be done to reshape and clean up the entrance at the Northshire Bookstore, according to Hayes.

According to the town's Web site, the intersection of Depot and Main streets has long been recognized as a 'choke point' in the middle of town. Intensive studies on how to improve the so-called "Malfunction Junction" began in the early 1990s. Through the efforts of Manchester's Transportation Initiative Committee (TIC), the project evolved from an intersection improvement project to a downtown improvement project which includes improving curbing, sidewalks, and the overall look of the area rather than just roadwork.

Over the weekend a sheriff was stationed at the roundabout to allow for the cement on the last half of the roundabout to cure, not allowing cars to go over the top and ruining the final product.

Hayes said that everyone had to work hard to get this completed before the storm hit and that the teamwork shown was great.

"We have had the cooperation of everyone in order to make this happen," she said. "Contractors, sub-contractors, you name it, had to really pull together and say 'let's protect this and lets get the job done'."

With the roundabout now paved and functional the community can start to see how the roundabout will work and start to add improved traffic flow to the area.

The cost of the project totaled roughly $5 million, and was paid for by federal dollars from the Federal Highway Fund. Other utility work which was added into the project over its long history, came to about an additional $900,000, divided equally between state and local funds, said John O'Keefe, Manchester's town manager.

O'Keefe has been following this project closely since construction started and said so far, he is pleased by how everything is coming together.

"I've spent a ton of time down there and I think it works brilliantly. Traffic seems to move nicely," he said. "The first real test will be Black Friday," referring to Thanksgiving weekend, typically a busy shopping period where the town sees an influx of visitors.

O'Keefe is also surprised by how much positive feedback he has received since the roundabout has been opened. When the project started there was a lot of negativity swarming around the project, and locals were uncertain if the two roundabouts were necessary.

"Since it's been operational I have heard only great things," said O'Keefe.