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Salem - One of the region's busiest intersections is about to get a makeover.
Construction of a new roundabout is scheduled to begin April 16 at Salem Four Corners. The state Department of Transportation will kick off the $4.5 million project that aims to slow motorists and promote safety.
The federally funded project has been in the planning stages for several years, only gaining traction after a fatal car crash and a number of other serious accidents at the intersection. It is a well-traveled area for commuters heading to and from Hartford.
"The first and main reason it's being done is because of safety," First Selectman Kevin Lyden said. "It's a very unsafe intersection. It's a tremendous safety upgrade for us."
Construction is expected to continue through the fall and some night work will be involved. Lyden said the state DOT has agreed to provide the town with periodic updates, which will be printed on hard copies available from the town clerk. Residents also may sign up on the town's website for email blasts with construction updates.
The roundabout will eliminate the traffic light at the busy intersection, which connects Routes 85 and 82. The state said a high frequency of head-on turning accidents exists in the area. While eliminating the possibility of left turns, the roundabout also forces drivers to slow down.
William Britnell, the state's principal engineer on the project, said the roundabout will resemble others the state has worked on in Milford, Killingworth and West Haven. He said it will be the first that he has worked on where the state is replacing a traffic light with a roundabout.
"With an intersection, speeds are unlimited. It's whatever the driver chooses to drive at," he said. "Even if there is a crash, it will be much less severe than with a signal. Not only do you see fewer crashes, but the severity is reduced."
Lyden said warning signs will be posted on Route 2 and in Waterford to notify motorists of the construction. He suggested that trucks find an alternate route while the work is under way.
The town's white house, on one corner of Salem Four Corners, will have to be demolished to accommodate the roundabout. Lyden said he expected that to happen in mid-May. The state will have a traffic control officer on hand as the project moves forward.
The roundabout will be built with crosswalks for pedestrians. The state also said that bicyclists would be able to enter the roundabout the same way automobiles do because of the lowered speeds.
The project also is expected to create a new "gateway" for the town and an upgraded look for its most-traveled area. The state is expected to complete construction this year and return next spring for landscaping.
"It's a tremendous aesthetic improvement with the roundabout," Lyden said. "It's going to look very nice."