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Salem — Close your eyes and imagine Salem Four Corners moved to the northwest of where it is now, without a traffic signal but a modern roundabout with crosswalks for pedestrians and improved entrances into businesses.
Preliminary plans from the state Department of Transportation call for all these details and more at Salem Four Corners, at the intersection of Routes 82 and 85. The town's most traversed intersection, and also its most dangerous, will undergo a major change in a couple years.
"I think the roundabout will produce a very attractive gateway to the town," said Salem Selectman Bob Ross.
Ross has been working on the plans with the DOT since 2008. Construction on the $4.5 million federally funded project is scheduled to begin in April 2012 with the roundabout being completed that summer. The final aspects of the project, such as landscaping, would be finished the following summer, according to DOT officials.
The project is designed to address safety problems with the intersection and help revitalize the town's commercial center. The roundabout would eliminate the traffic light and improve safety and overall traffic flow, Ross said.
"This has been customized for Salem," Ross said. "The DOT spent a long time looking at the volume of traffic."
He added that the project "isn't just about Salem."
"So many more move this way to go to Hartford," Ross said.
Ross stressed that the roundabout is not a rotary. A modern roundabout works to slow traffic down, not necessarily stop it. The goal is to reduce the number of accidents and relieve congestion.
"Rotaries are not safe. Roundabouts slow more people down but do it safely," Ross said.
Today, drivers have to navigate multiple entrances and exits to businesses and plazas clustered close to the intersection. The plan calls for the center of the intersection to move west and north.
There are several changes north on Route 85, such as adding two islands with landscaping and a turning lane into Salem Marketplace.
Owners of Henny Penny and Prime Cuts provided easements to allow safer access to both businesses.
The intersection will be raised 3 feet to minimize the risk of flooding. Also, a section of Route 82 from Norwich will have be regraded to eliminate its current steep slope. Crosswalks will installed for pedestrians.
Three buildings will be removed and left as open space, including the former Bad Boyz Toyz building and the house and shed behind it. The white building located in Salem Marketplace will be partially removed.
Ross said he is working with the DOT on ways to minimize the impact to drivers during construction.