Stockbridge police chief urges traffic circle at tricky intersection

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STOCKBRIDGE — Is it high time to reconfigure the notorious four-corner intersection in the heart of downtown?

Citing increasing congestion, Police Chief Darrell Fennelly is proposing consideration of a traffic circle to replace the three-way stop sign that often confuses motorists passing through.

He told the Select Board last week that there have been eight accidents so far this year at the busy Route 7 and 102 intersection (South Street, Pine Street and Main Street), near the Red Lion Inn, compared to six mishaps all of last year.

Fortunately, he said, none of them have resulted in serious injuries.

"It's hard to navigate, there are no controls and people are just trying to dart, to make a run for it," the chief said. "It can be a harrowing experience for people to get across that intersection."

"We're getting a lot more complaints than I've ever noticed before about that intersection," Fennelly told the board. He noted that when a police officer was stationed there in the past, "all the traffic flow grinds to a halt. I don't believe that's the solution."

A traffic light at the intersection, which would be the town's first, also would not help, he said.

"It's just going to back up traffic even more, past the firehouse and the playhouse" just east of the business district along Route 102.

The chief pointed out that in recent weeks, Massachusetts Turnpike detours through town caused by work at the former West Stockbridge toll plaza, combined with usual seasonal traffic buildup, intensified the downtown congestion.

Fennelly also commented that the four pedestrian crosswalks on Main Street, heavily used in the summer, also contribute to stop-and-go traffic.

A study of a traffic circle by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission was commissioned by the Select Board eight years ago. A copy of it was not immediately available, but Town Administrator Danielle Fillio recalled that "it was not received very well" by the town, especially since it would have required elimination of the Red Lion Inn's cat and dog fountain and Christmas tree in the center green median of South Street.

"The area would have to be redesigned," said Select Board Chairman Donald Chabon, urging a recommendation for a study.

"I think it should be looked into," added Selectman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo, who's also the town's fire chief. "It's a serious situation, if you sit there and watch it." Sooner or later, he said, there's likely to be a severe accident, possibly involving a tanker or gas truck.

"It's a miracle we don't have more [accidents] than we do," the police chief agreed. "My recommendation would be a traffic circle, you see them on Cape Cod and they work wonderfully. They keep the traffic flowing, and they're becoming more popular across the country as well. We're seeing them more and more."

Fennelly suggested that a traffic circle would eliminate most of the problems at the intersection such as "people trying to dart across or fighting to get out, not waiting to take their turn. Instead, you would have a nice flow around it."

Because two state highways converge at the location, state approval of a possible traffic circle would be needed, he added, although it's the town's responsibility to maintain and to plow the intersection.

At Chabon's request, Fennelly agreed to prepare a formal, detailed recommendation in consultation with Highway Superintendent Leonard Tisdale.

"We've got to look at it and come up with something," Cardillo said. Any plan would have to accommodate the large trucks that pass through town.

"We'd have to hear from town residents as well," Fennelly said.

Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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