New signals could ease traffic tie-ups in North Amherst 

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/4/2020 2:12:38 PM

AMHERST — In the morning as people commute to the University of Massachusetts, and in the afternoon and evening as they head home, several roads that converge in North Amherst are scenes of traffic back-ups.

This spring those periodic tie-ups could be diminished, if the Town Council agrees to the purchase and installation of smart traffic lights, with a high-tech controller, at the intersection where North Pleasant, Pine and Meadow streets meet.

The Finance Committee is recommending, by a 5-0 vote, to take $116,919 remaining from the installation of a temporary bridge on Station Road last year and spend about $80,000 of this toward the purchase and installation of the new equipment. Any money left over will go toward other road and sidewalk improvements.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring said the temporary fix, as he describes it, will include putting in a span wire above the intersection, then having his crews and a private vendor attach the signals and other equipment.

Under the plan, one of the protected left-turn signals will be for vehicles traveling from Meadow Street onto North Pleasant Street. 

“The big thing is to allow Meadow Street traffic to turn left and to not be held up by the Pine Street traffic going straight,” Mooring said.

During the academic year, Meadow Street in the afternoons can often see traffic tied up beyond the entrance to Townehouse Apartments and to the Route 116 bypass. Nearly five years ago, town officials had discussed the idea of a protected left-hand turn from Meadow, and sought a MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant, but never secured the $750,000 needed.

Mooring said the controller is sophisticated in that it analyzes what is going on with vehicles and pedestrians, adding or subtracting time, up to specific limits, to get the cars on Meadow, Pine and North Pleasant through the intersection. It will have less impact on Montague Road, where vehicles in the morning often get backed up in front of the Riverside Park Shopping Plaza,

With the wire above the intersection, the existing light poles that are occasionally clipped by larger trucks can be removed. When those are damaged, the lights at the intersection alternate between blinking yellow and blinking red.

The town’s capital plan has $2.1 million in fiscal year 2021 for rebuilding the North Amherst intersection, though it’s uncertain if that will happen.

There have been conversations centered around building a roundabout at the site, but there are challenges to doing that, as well as installing dedicated turn lanes, due to how close some of the neighboring buildings are, including the Black Walnut Inn and the Zion Korean Church.

Meantime, Mooring said it’s uncertain how long the temporary bridge can be in place on Station Road. At a cost of between $1 million and $2 million, state officials may encourage the permanent replacement of that bridge within five years.

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

 




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