Traffic engineers say roundabouts would improve North Amherst intersection

  • North Amherst Village Center TOWN OF AMHERST

Staff Writer
Published: 5/15/2019 3:29:27 PM

AMHERST — An engineer is recommending that two roundabouts be built in North Amherst to replace a complicated five-way intersection that causes traffic congestion at certain times of the day, particularly when people are commuting to and from the University of Massachusetts campus.

The report from CDM Smith Engineers of Cambridge, hired to examine both the main intersection of North Pleasant, Meadow and Pine streets, and where Montague and Sunderland roads meet in front of the North Amherst Library a few hundred feet to the north, will be the subject of a public discussion at the Transportation Advisory Committee next week. The committee meets at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the police station community room.

Committee Chairman Aaron Hayden said the hope is to have input from residents, businesses and commuters about CDM Smith’s analysis, which will allow the committee to make its own suggestion to the Department of Public Works and Town Council. 

“Our role is to advise the public works and council on this,” Hayden said. 

He added that he would like to see conversation about all the options CDM Smith explored.

“We’re trying to understand how the intersection works and how it impacts people directly around it,” Hayden said.

Planning for intersection improvements has been ongoing for several years, and has included the $675,000 purchase of the former Village Auto Service parcel just north of the library in 2016 as well as applications for more than $2 million in funding from the state’s MassWorks Infrastructure program.

Any improvements to the intersection would likely also have an affect on proposed renovations to the North Amherst Library and the Cow Field ballfield on Sunderland Road.

In 2015, CDM Smith recommended that the town upgrade the traffic signals at North Pleasant, Meadow and Pine streets, and possibly bring Sunderland and Montague roads to a “T” intersection in front of the Riverside Park Shopping Plaza. That recommendation is no longer the preferred path forward, based on traffic counts.

The report states that the engineers prefer “a single lane roundabout with a westbound right turn bypass lane at the intersection of North Pleasant Street at Meadow Street and Pine Street, complemented by a 4-legged roundabout at the intersection of Sunderland Road at Montague Road which incorporates private plaza access into the roundabout control.”

The report goes on to note that “T-type intersection options are expected to experience long delays and large vehicle queue lengths” and that “the roundabout option is anticipated to provide less vehicle delay and smaller vehicle queue lengths. The roundabout option would also have less impact on traffic operations at the adjacent study intersection."

But the engineers also observe that a roundabout could be complicated, especially at Meadow Street which is bordered closely by two buildings, including the Black Walnut Inn. 

“The impact to private property to accommodate the roundabout will need to be assessed to determine if the roundabout with the requisite westbound right turn slip lane is fully feasible,” the report states. 

Planning for improvements to the North Amherst intersections comes as the North Square at Mill District project is scheduled to start coming on line later this summer. The project includes 130 new rental units, 26 of which are affordable, and 22,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. Even with this project, though, it is unlikely to add significantly to existing bottlenecks created by commuters.

The report and more information are available on the town website at https://www.amherstma.gov/3481/N-Amherst-Intersection

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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