Beaver Meadow traffic delays: better get used to them

And there's no one in sight ...

I've written once and then twice about Bill Malo's unhappiness with the timed traffic lights bracketing the stream bank repairs on Beaver Meadow Road in Norwich -- and this morning Ted Astin weighed in with his own listserv post. 

He did not hold back. The temporary lights bring that out in people -- in part I'm sure because it's not like Beaver Meadow Road is alive with traffic.

"To say the newly installed, temporary traffic light on Beaver Meadow Road is a pain-in-the-ass is an understatement," he began.

"Current situation reminds me of the inane scene in Blazing Saddles with the toll booth in the middle of the high plains desert," he ended.

In between he offered suggestions: have the workers labor around the clock to speed this up; turn the lights off at the end of the day and let drivers use their own good sense.

First of all, I like Blazing Saddles -- though when I watched it again recently with our college-aged daughter, I realized it was not aging gracefully. 

But that's not my point.

My point is that I called Town Manager Herb Durfee to get the lowdown on the lights. Here's what he said.

First, the July 1 downpour undermined Beaver Meadow Road in several spots, it's not safe, and it needs to be fixed. I'll bet everyone's on the same page there.

Second, federal and state law require traffic safety controls in active construction zones. I imagine we're all good with that.

Third, timed traffic lights are a cheaper option than flaggers, so that saves taxpayers money. To that I'd add, I'm not sure where the crew from Willey Earth would leave their massive machinery along Beaver Meadow Road overnight if not on the road. There is no side of the road.

Fourth, if you're going to do timed traffic lights, Federal Highway Administration guidelines spell out the best practices. "That manual is thick, to say the least," said Durfee.

The timing of lights is the product of a formula incorporating several variables, such as the distance between the two lights, the speed limit, and how much of a delay you need in turning a red light green, to be sure traffic coming in the other direction clears the zone.

That last factor also allows for "some yahoo out there who decides to run the red light" as it transitions, Durfee said. (In Norwich? Never. Unless the driver's from out of town. Which happens.)

Tinker with the recommended timing, Durfee said, and the town's liability risk rises.

Want some more bad news, frustrated drivers?

When the work in the current bottleneck is finished, the Willey Earth crew -- and their timed stoplights -- will move a couple miles up the road to an even worse washout, where traffic is now moderated simply by a blinking light.

What some goodish news? 

Barring complications, the work should be done by late fall.

"We all kind of have to take it with a grain of salt for the duration of the construction time," Durfee said. "because the whole purpose of this is to keep the roadway safe. And right now it’s not safe."

What's a town manager to hope for, in situations like this? "Maybe by Thanksgiving we’ll all be eating turkey happily," he said.


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