NASHUA – City officials are mulling the possibility of adding two more roundabouts to Broad Street – one at Dublin Avenue and one near the entrance to Broad Street Elementary School – and installing a median to bar left turns west of Coliseum Avenue.
City Engineer Stephen Dookran said the idea is part of an estimated $4.5 million reconstruction of the roadway into what the plans describe as an “urban boulevard.”
The city’s proposal is to create a tree-lined road with bike lanes, sidewalks and landscaped median areas. The two single-lane roundabouts would mirror the size of the existing roundabout at Coburn Avenue and Chuck Druding Drive, near the entrance to Nashua High School North.
A neighborhood meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m. at Nashua North to air the idea.
When the first roundabout 2002, it produced long backups and public complaints.
However, public works officials blamed the problem on the poor timing of completing the roundabout and opening the new school on the same day. They also said a traffic light at the intersection would have led to even longer backups.
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Public Works Director Richard Seymour said the two roundabouts in the city work well to keep traffic flowing, and the division gets kudos for the second roundabout outside Rivier College.
Dookran said the proposed roundabouts – one at Dublin Avenue and the other at Chapel Hill Drive – are part of a conceptual plan for Broad Street that has to be accepted by neighbors, aldermen and state transportation officials before the city moves ahead with final designs.
Fire Chief Roger Hatfield already has some concerns about what the plan might mean to firefighters rushing to an emergency.
“I’m not in favor of roundabouts,” he said.
City officials are working on the plans now, even though construction won’t take place for at least a few more years. The state Department of Transportation would pay for 80 percent of the construction cost, and the money is expected to become available by 2008.
Broad Street runs east to west, connecting Hollis in the west to Amherst Street in the east. The concept behind the “urban boulevard” is to keep the commercial boom on Broad Street near the F.E. Everett Turnpike and prevent it from creeping into residential neighborhoods.
Housing construction in Hollis and Brookline, as well as the completion of developments along Broad Street such as the 70-plus houses for the Majestic Heights development, promise to put even more drivers on the road.
Some 27,000 cars and trucks per day travel the road between the highway and Dublin Avenue now, according to traffic reports from Vollmer Associates. By 2024, the number of vehicles is expected to have increased by about 22 percent, and several intersections along the road already provide poor levels of service, city officials say.
The construction would also bring more “traffic calming” measures to the road. The idea behind traffic calming, a buzzword in traffic engineering, is to design a road to alter a driver’s behavior, lower driving speeds and make the road safer for bikers and less intimidating to walkers.
Engineers plan to erect the new roundabouts and make the travel lanes 11 feet wide, about a foot narrower than usual. Drivers tend to slow down on narrower roads, and the proposed roundabouts would slow cars to around 20 mph.
Dookran said the idea behind the medians between Coliseum and Coburn avenues is to cut down on drivers making dangerous left turns across oncoming traffic. If the medians are built, drivers who normally would make a left turn off Broad Street would instead need to use one of the roundabouts to reverse directions on Broad and then turn right.
Ward 1 Alderman Kathryn Vitale said she has traveled around the country and found roundabouts to be a good tool for traffic control, even when there are a series of them.
Also, there would be other benefits to her ward with the bike paths and other amenities, she said.
The proposal from Vollmer Associates includes a second alternative. That would keep the traffic lights at the Dublin Avenue intersection and only build the roundabout outside Broad Street Elementary School.
However, the traffic consultants said the traffic light would lead to longer waits by 2024.
Hatfield said he was unaware of the idea for more roundabouts.
In general, he said they slow down response times for firefighters. Also, the slowing down and speeding up to maneuver around roundabouts puts wear and tear on the fire trucks, which are costly to repair, he said.