Published January 07. 2014 4:00AM
Since it opened at the end of 2012, an anecdotal accounting suggested problems with the roundabout that displaced the traffic light at Salem Four Corners, where routes 85 and 82 intersect. Drivers reported confusion about which lane in the circular to take to their desired destinations. Hesitating drivers sometimes encounter brazen ones who ignore the rule to yield to vehicles in the roundabout, resulting in near misses.
However, setting aside the anecdotes and looking at the hard data produces a clear conclusion - the new design is reducing accidents and injuries.
In other words, the redesign is working as planned.
The first full year of operation saw only seven accidents at the location, none with injuries, according to the state Department of Transportation. In the years before the roundabout construction began in 2009, the busy intersection averaged 24 crashes and nine injuries annually, including in one instance a fatal accident.
The improvement, it appears, has largely to do with reduced speeds. The roundabout forces drivers to slow down, improving accident avoidance and the potential for injury when mishaps do occur. Slower travel not only reduces accident risk in the intersection, but also at the adjoining small, but busy, retail outlets that surround the junction of the two state routes.
An added benefit is that without traffic backing up at the lights once located there, congestion is now less of problem. The roundabout allows vehicles to keep moving.
It is a bit strange that Salem Four Corners no longer has corners, but then again the Whaling City no longer hosts a whaling industry and no ferry crosses the Thames River in Gales Ferry.
While the DOT carried out the project, it is worth noting that former First Selectman Bob Ross came up with the idea. Mr. Ross first suggested to state transportation officials back in 2008 that a modern roundabout might be the best way to reduce accidents at the location. After a subsequent analysis, the DOT agreed.
Mr. Ross now serves as a selectman, an elected position that gives him the time necessary to devote to his other job as executive director of the Connecticut Office of Military Affairs.