Function Junction

The ultimate verdict has yet to be handed in, but so far, there's a lot to like about the town's new Roundabout - excuse us, Function Junction. Somehow that just doesn't have the same quirky ring of "Malfunction Junction." Maybe we can trademark that one and save it for the next intersection that raises the hackles of motorists. There's bound to be one sooner or later.

Meanwhile, the new layout at the intersection of Main and Depot streets seems to be working so well that it's tempting to wonder what all the handwringing that preceded it was about. That would however, dismiss too lightly the very real issues, risks and sacrifices that were undertaken by those charged with bringing the new configuration into being and those businesses which had to endure a summer's worth of construction and inconvenience. But now that it's more or less done, with construction close to winding down for the winter, it's possible to get a clearer view on how the new traffic rotary will not only improve the flow of vehicles through the main intersection of town, but open up - transform may (or may not be) too strong a term - the downtown to become a lot more visually attractive than it used to be.

First though, the traffic. We'll get our first real test of how well the twin roundabouts will perform this week when what we all hope will be the usual number of holiday visitors show up to shop and have fun around the Northshire. If the traffic flows smoothly without those awful long back-ups down Depot and Main streets, then it will be cause for celebration. Or we may find there's still a tweak or two that would be worth installing. Given the evidence to date, however, we're willing to bet that it's going to be a big improvement.

The more interesting aspect to the rotary is how it opens up the whole area. Gone are those dreary-looking telephone poles and the uninspired feel of the intersection. In its place has come something that is at once more contemporary and stylish, which shows off the New England feeling of the vicinity.

The implication of that is the town could leverage this change to become a locale that generates "buzz." It's indefinable, but you know it when you see it, read or hear about it. It's what the town had going for it through much of the 1980s and 90s when the retailing scene bloomed and Manchester became someplace cool to go to.

Somehow, and there are no shortage of theories as to why, that faded over the past 10 years. And simply replicating the formula from a quarter-century ago won't bring that back - and many would probably say that's fine. But a change-over like making the town's main intersection known for visual attractiveness and traffic efficiency, combined with other amenities like town wi-fi, park benches, a new Park House at the Rec Park, a new chamber of commerce visitor center - could be a spur to more development and more economic growth, not only of the consumer variety but in businesses involved in value-added goods and services.

It's interesting to study why some communities rise and fall. One which is clearly on the rise and full of "buzz" right now is Saratoga, N.Y. There, a large hi-tech center is helping push money through the neighborhood, but there's more to the equation than that. Rather, there seems to have been an outbreak of pro-active visionary fever that has seen a once-fading area that had enjoyed better days revive into something with - well, "buzz." There's no reason that couldn't happen here too.

That may be placing a lot on a traffic rotary that was meant to simply get cars through downtown more easily, but everything starts somewhere. Finally, congratulations are certainly in order to all the individuals and organizations that played important roles in bringing the Roundabout to fruition. From the first conversations among town leaders more than 20 years ago, through the TIC - Transportation Initiative Committee, led by Ron Mancini - to the efforts to secure federal funding by the last three town managers and groupings of select board members, all played significant roles.

The present leadership of John O'Keefe and Lee Krohn and the present Selectboard, and last but hardly least, Schultz Construction Corp., which has built the project with a lot of sensitivity to helping the town survive the changeover with as little impact as possible - all deserve a lot of credit for making a complex undertaking like this move from the drawing board to reality. It's not simple, and there were a lot of moving parts, any one of which could have really gummed things up if it had gone wrong.

We hear a lot about infrastructure and how as a nation, America isn't investing in some of its physical backbone like roadways, sewer lines, transportation and electrical transmission lines to compete in the 21st century. While the Roundabout is hardly in the same league - even though it seemed like a big fish for us to swallow - it shows that we can still do this. Now all we have to do is figure out to do it a little faster.


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