Northside Drive roundabout open to traffic

State transportation officials are considering building three traffic circles along Northside Drive, similar to this one at the Walmart intersection, to ease traffic flow.

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BENNINGTON — Town and state highway planners have been going around in circles for years about the need for improvements to Northside Drive. But now it appears both sides are getting serious about building three traffic circles along the heavily traveled roadway to ease traffic flow and allow some beautification of the strip.

Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd told the Select Board this week that roundabouts are in the early planning stages, including a large circle at the Route 7/Kocher Drive intersection, a medium-sized roundabout at the Benmont Avenue intersection, and a smaller circle at Hicks Avenue and Orchard Road near the McDonald’s restaurant.

“It’s pretty exciting, the fact that the state is finally moving in that direction,” Hurd told the Board on Monday night. “It’s been a long time coming, and we’re pretty pleased. (The state engineers) seem to be pretty enthusiastic about the potentials. It will really do a lot to move traffic through the Northside Drive area.”

In an interview on Tuesday, Hurd said this work is in the early stages and the process could take eight years – or likely longer – before any of the three projects breaks ground. At Monday night’s meeting, Select Board Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins jokingly asked, “In our lifetime?”

“That’s a yes, it will happen in our lifetime,” Hurd responded.

“That’s exciting,” Jenkins said. “It’s very exciting.”

Hurd said two hearings are required. The first, called a “local concerns meeting,” will be held on Feb. 13. The traffic engineering firm hired by the state – VHB – will present its preliminary findings for the three sites and get public reaction and input. The engineers will return in April to present more detailed proposals and traffic data for public consideration.

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“It’s a two-step process. If they get through that and the community is in favor of this, which I’m hoping the community would be, they will report back to the state and the state would make a determination on the project,” Hurd said.

He said that years ago the town did a study of potential roundabouts on Northside Drive and found that virtually every intersection could use one. There is currently a roundabout at the Pizza Hut/Walmart intersection. Hurd said he was unaware that the state had launched its own study until he was notified recently that the engineers were interested in the three roundabout sites mentioned.

The proposal would also allow for plantings in the roundabouts to help beautify the Northside Drive strip, which is largely commercial and industrial.

Northside Drive is a state-owned property, he added. Unless there is a change in ownership for any reason, the state would shoulder the costs of the projects. Hurd said he hopes the state would also take on repairs of some of the drainage problems on Northside Drive, as well. Bennington has contemplated taking ownership of that roadway, but not before these projects are done, he added.

The town recently learned that Starbucks and possibly Chipotle plan to locate restaurants near the Northside Drive/Benmont Avenue intersection. Hurd said that proposed roundabout would be helpful there.

“That’s going to be tough site to get in and out of, so this would probably help that,” he said.

“We know that roundabouts move traffic,” Hurd said. The circles proposed for Northside Avenue “will make things move much more smoothly along that stretch.”


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