The intersection where Common Street meets Orchard Street and Church Street is well known for being a free-for-all, seat of your pants place to drive through, but that will change when it is turned into a roundabout during the renovation project for which funding was approved by the Town Council on Tuesday night.
When the project is complete, the vast area of asphalt will be trimmed down with new islands, planting and a landscaped roundabout in the middle. The project will also include major changes for the intersection of Common and Spring streets, and work on other nearby streets.
The new configuration of the intersection will make it safer for drivers and pedestrians, said Department of Public Works Superintendent Gerald Mee.
“Ultimately we concluded the roundabout was the best solution,” Mee said. “We believe it will lower the speed coming up the hill – surprisingly there is a speed issue going up the hill – and lower speed coming down Common Street.”
A radar speed sign, showing motorists their current speed, will be installed heading down Common Street on a utility pole at Bellevue Road.
The roundabout will be wide enough and sufficient diameter for large trucks to navigate the circle, Mee said.
Crosswalks will be installed between the new islands used to narrow the intersection and create the roundabout.
Discussions about how to improve the Common/Orchard/Church Street intersection have been going on for years, and plans have evolved over the years, said Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli.
“At first no one wanted a roundabout. People wanted lights with a left turn lane and lots of islands,” Piccirilli said. “The tide turned and the public not only came around to the idea of a roundabout but became passionate about the idea.”
The Common/Spring Street intersection will also look much different. Currently, Spring forks when it hits Common around a vegetated island. The new configuration removes one of the spurs, and the new roadway will come together with Common Street at an intersection that will have a new traffic light.
Mee said this is an important area for Watertown High School, because it is one of the main pedestrian crossings to get to the school. Other pedestrian improvements include a crossing at Columbia Street that will be on an area of where the roadway will be raised, Mee said.
Bicycle improvements will also be included in the project, with bike lanes on portions of Common Street, and “share the road” markings on sections from Spring Street to Mt. Auburn Street. Also, a bike lane will be added on nearby Marshall Street going the opposite way of the one-way traffic on the street that goes away from Mt. Auburn.
Councilor Aaron Dushku commended Mee and his staff for trying to include many Complete Streets practices – which call for planning for bicycles, pedestrians, public transit and the disabled along with motor vehicles.
“I realize you get pushback from motorists, who think you are always pushing for Complete Streets,” Dushku said. “I was happy to see two lanes painted (on Common at Mt. Auburn), for left and right turns. To do that you had to take away some things for bikes.”
Also included in the project is repaving Katherine Road and Orchard Street extension, the area east of the Common Street intersection.
The project will receive funding from several sources, including $975,000 in bonds (approved by the Town Council on Tuesday), Chapter 90 state streets funds and funds from the Town’s water improvement account. The bonds will be paid off over five years, starting in 2018, and there will be estimated interest payments of $131,625, according to the project presentation from Town Manager Michael Driscoll.
Water and sewer work will start in the next few weeks, Mee said, to prepare for the project. He expects the project to go to bid by mid-December and hopes to award the bid and start construction in April 2018. The work will take two construction seasons, he said.