Published January 06. 2014 4:00AM
Salem - Although some people still express trepidation about the roundabout that came to Salem Four Corners in late 2012, traffic data indicates that the new pattern has fulfilled its promise of making the busy intersection safer.
There has not been a single car accident with injuries at the intersection of Routes 82 and 85 since the construction on the roundabout began, according to data from state police.
The roundabout "might be one of our most successful projects ever," said Will Britnell, principal engineer at the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
The old intersection was averaging around 24 crashes a year, nine of which resulted in injuries, said Britnell. There was also a fatal accident at the location.
Britnell was the project manager for the roundabout, which was designed to improve safety at the intersection of Routes 82 and 85.
Before taking on that project, he worked on a roundabout in Killingworth that received national honors for a 50 percent reduction in the number of crashes and an 83 percent reduction in the number of crashes with injuries.
Although there have been no injuries at the Salem roundabout since its completion, many locals say the roundabout is confusing, and there have been eight accidents without injuries since construction was finished in November 2012.
"Truthfully, it's frightening," said Stephanie Sutera, a Salem resident who said she's lived in the area since she was 6.
Although she recognizes that the old intersection was dangerous, Sutera said she felt "more comfortable" with the four corners because the traffic rules were clearer.
On Tuesday, several customers at the Henny Penny just south of the roundabout on Route 85 echoed Sutera's sentiments. Mostly residents of Salem or bordering towns, they said the roundabout is especially confusing to out-of-town drivers, who need more time to assess the unfamiliar traffic situation.
The local drivers said they haven't been in accidents, but have been in or witnessed several near misses as confused drivers tried to navigate the circle.
But, as Britnell is quick to point out, near misses are just that.
"A near miss says you didn't get into an accident," he said.
"There are always going to be a few people who get confused by these things," acknowledged Britnell. But the fact that they're not getting into any serious accidents is encouraging, he said.
The roundabout was "such a new concept for people at first," said Salem First Selectman Kevin Lyden, but "residents have gotten used to it and I think that any of the bugs that were originally there have been pretty much worked out."
Lyden said the roundabout has been working well most of the time and that the DOT has been responsive to any comments from Salem residents.
At first, there were some complaints that people weren't yielding to drivers in the roundabout, which still happens sometimes, said Lyden.
"Unfortunately, some people are still not very courteous drivers, whether there's a roundabout or regular roads," he said.
Additionally, there are a couple of approaches to the roundabout with two lanes but with only one circulating lane within the roundabout, a situation which Britnell blames for some of the confusion.
When approaching the roundabout from the south on Route 85, there are two left turn lanes - one to allow drivers to turn into the Henny Penny and Salem Prime Cuts and, later, another lane to allow an easier turn from Route 85 right onto Route 82.
Some people don't understand which lane you need to get into to make the turn, said Britnell.
On top of that confusion, the original pavement markings with turning arrows near the yield line led some drivers to believe that they could turn left into the roundabout, a dangerous decision.
The DOT hadn't anticipated that anyone would think they could turn left into a roundabout, said Britnell, and after some discussion, the DOT decided to remove the lane markings.
Britnell said he hasn't heard of many problems with people merging into the roundabout since that change was made.
Overall, the roundabout is working "well beyond anything we ever expected," he said. The DOT was hoping for a 30 to 40 percent reduction in accidents, but accidents in the area have dropped by 65 percent since 2009.
Part of the reason for the reduction in accidents, said Britnell, is the reduced speed in the roundabout. The speed limit drops from 40 mph on Route 85 to 15 mph within the circle.
While speed limits can be reduced prior to a normal traffic signal, "with a roundabout, we're physically forcing them to go slow," explained Britnell.
Unexpectedly, said Britnell, the roundabout also helped clear up congestion on Route 85, which used to get backed up during the summer and afternoon commutes. But with the roundabout, the DOT has hardly seen any congestion at all.
The lack of congestion has been a "pleasant surprise," he said.
email@example.comACCIDENTS AT THE ROUTE 82 AND ROUTE 85 INTERSECTION
2009: 20 accidents; 2 with injuries
2010: 13 accidents; 1 with injuries
2011: 14 accidents; 2 with injuries
2012: 8 accidents; none with injuries
2013: 7 accidents; none with injuries
Source: Connecticut State Police