Around and around

On the whole, work on the downtown Roundabout has gone fairly well. The jury may still be out on the so-called "button" roundabout at the corner of Main and Bonnet streets, which so far has probably confused as many motorists as it may have assisted getting through that intersection. We really won't know until the main Roundabout is finished and in operation before being able to conclude if this is a brilliant device or overkill. It should alleviate the backups that tend to occur on Bonnet Street during busy moments, but exactly how it functions in coordination with the larger roundabout remains to be seen. We'll give the benefit of the doubt to the traffic planners and engineers who came up with the concept, which is pretty unusual. Curious to find out if there was another like it, we turned to Google for an Internet search. Not surprisingly, double roundabouts aren't uncommon in Great Britain, and interestingly enough, in Ohio. One was at least recently discussed for an intersection in Rotterdam, N.Y. But Mr. Google couldn't find an exact match to our double roundabout, but that's not to say there isn't one out there, somewhere.

Many motorists today may find roundabouts a little unusual, if not blood pressure elevating. That may well start to change in coming years. Increasingly, such traffic rotaries are seen as safer - motorists have to slow down, for one, and the accidents that do occur tend to be sideswipes or minor fender benders, rather than head-on collisions or "T-bones." Traffic should also keep moving - no more long backups trying to make a left turn from Depot to Main Street, for example; and fuel consumption and air quality should get better as a result.

That's the theory, anyway.

However, we have one suggestion to offer town officials as we approach one of the biggest and most economically important weekends of the year. Columbus Day weekend, which comes earlier than usual this year, is a critical weekend for most if not all area merchants and businesses. No one loves the traffic congestion, but the visitor dollars that flow into town coffers, public and private, help float many boats. Like others, we have wondered how the half-finished state of the roundabout will affect travel and driving through downtown Manchester during this economically critical time.

It might turn out to be not-so-bad, or it could be a nightmare, with one fewer lanes at the junction, a cluster of signs to absorb and process at the "button" intersection, and rough pavement to boot. We know that there are two schools of thought on the wisdom of human traffic control, but during the busy parts of the day, especially during the foliage season weekends, why can't someone - preferably a member of the Manchester Police Department, to give the individual some extra heft - be on hand to help direct traffic during the daytime hours should things get a little too congested? If nothing else, it shows the town cares about helping motorists through the intersection safely while it remains largely a construction site. This would seem sensible not only for Columbus Day weekend, but the following weekend as well. And hopefully even during the week in-between, since it would be nice to think the traffic would be dense enough to clearly justify it. Furthermore, by having a local police officer be the traffic control person, the town would - we assume - not have to pay out anything further to some other traffic control service, like the Bennington County Sheriff's Department.

All in all, we'd like to compliment the Shultz Construction company - the main contractor for the Roundabout project - as well as town officials who have worked incredibly hard to make a complex project in the center of town become a reality while trying to balance the short-term needs and wants of the town's residents and businesses. It hasn't been easy, but on balance, given the magnitude of what was involved, so far, so good. Actually, more praise than that is justified. There were many places where things could have gone horribly off-track, but didn't. That's a reflection of careful planning, good execution and good communication.

Having the work on the intersection largely completed by the end of the year, and maybe a lot sooner, will be a huge plus. And we think the final product, when complete, will really spark up the downtown and form the basis for a new surge of growth for the town and the areas as a whole. But first we have to get through the next couple of weekends with visitor numbers and spending reasonably intact, and it is worth the while to have a human backstop to smooth the rough edges out if half a roundabout turns out to be, at this stage, not quite half a solution to the age-old traffic woes at the former Malfunction Junction.


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