WINOOSKI -- Commuters in Chittenden County know by now to avoid the construction zone around Winooski during rush hour -- it can take 10 to 20 minutes to drive half a mile down Main Street and over the bridge to Burlington. Winooski's new rotary, unveiled three weeks ago, was supposed to improve traffic flow. City Manager Gerry Myers insists that it will -- he and his downtown-redevelopment team just have to work out a few kinks first.
On a walking tour of the innovative downtown project one recent afternoon, Myers pointed out only one lane is open so far around most of the giant oval. The second lane -- and the public park in the center of the rotary -- should be finished in time for the downtown's completion ceremony in mid-November. That should speed things up.
He admitted he still has some public education to do. Myers has been appearing on TV and before community groups to explain how to use a rotary. Rule number one: Always drive counterclockwise. "Don't laugh," he says. "People go the wrong way. I've observed it several times."
He also reminds drivers that people in the circle have the right of way. Standing on an asphalt island at the edge of the rotary, Myers points out multiple drivers who yield to let other motorists enter the circle. That's not how it should work. He notes that's the kind of behavior that causes traffic backups. "It will be faster once people start following the rules," he says. And he points out that traffic is already faster than it's been since construction started last fall.
That's true during most of the day, but not at the height of rush hour. Then, even practicing proper rotary etiquette doesn't make much difference. Traffic often backs up along both sides of the bridge, and all the way around the rotary in the morning. Long lines form along Colchester and Riverside Avenues in the evening. Myers blames much of this on the traffic light on the Burlington side of the bridge. It creates a bottleneck that's tough to clear.
To fix the problem, the city of Burlington has to replace the mechanical traffic controller that powers the lights, which currently has only one setting. A new controller will have multiple settings for different times of the day. But Burlington Public Works engineer Justin Rabidoux says the new signal won't be in place "until next construction season."
The device is part of the Riverside Avenue construction project, which, coincidentally, also got underway this year and has contributed to slowing commuters. "We're aware of it," says Rabidoux of the issue with the light. "We can and will make changes shortly."
Both Rabidoux and Myers say they've been communicating about the situation, and that the process is moving as quickly as possible. Too bad they can't say the same about the traffic.