Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2007
By John Briggs
Free Press Staff Writer
Motorists leaving downtown who normally take the ramp from Vermont 127 onto North Avenue in the New North End will find themselves facing a traffic light today.
The entrance lane -- or "slip ramp" -- onto North Avenue will be blocked for at least six to eight weeks as the city studies a partial fix to a longtime problem. Northbound drivers will be diverted to the traffic light at North Avenue, then will be able to turn right.
The diversion, Public Works Assistant Director Norm Baldwin acknowledged, might create "some measure of delay."
The busy intersection has long bedeviled nearby residents. "I've had a lot of complaints from residents who live adjacent to that road," said Councilor Russ Ellis, D-Ward 4. "The slip ramp was designed at a time when they didn't really consider they were running that road into a residential neighborhood."
Ellis said narrow sidewalks and no greenbelt leave the city with no place to push snow after a storm. He said he supports the Department of Public Works experiment.
Baldwin said the road design at the intersection with North Avenue dates to the early 1970s and, with its expanse of concrete, features "a lot of wasted space. It's a highway design," he said, "trying to fit with an urban environment."
The fast-moving traffic on Vermont 127, despite the 25 mph speed limit, scarcely slows as it pours off the Beltline, up the hill and onto North Avenue. Ellis said the problems posed by speeding are compounded by design of the ramp. The ramp is steep-pitched and curved, which makes it hard to see whether the way is clear to cross the ramp or pull out of adjacent streets and driveways on North Avenue.
In 2003, the city put a traffic light at the intersection, and that slowed traffic moving north from the downtown on North Avenue. Still, the ramp problem persisted, leading to a study that recommended straightening the ramp and slowing cars to 15 mph as they approached North Avenue.
That solution, Department of Public Works staff felt, would also give pedestrians a better look at the traffic coming up the ramp and create room to push snow out of the way. Also, it was a "moderately priced project," the department told residents at a meeting at the end of July, which increased the odds of gaining state and federal dollars to help pay for it.
That money, Baldwin said, has not come through, and it's not likely to appear soon.
Baldwin said the city plans to repave that section of North Avenue next summer and wants to see how this traffic light alternative works "and get the issue resolved before then."
"We don't know exactly how long we'll do it," he said of the ramp closure. "If it turns out to be a hazard, the director could pull the plug. We want to have a solid sense of how traffic has responded."
Then, he said, the city can decide whether to reopen the ramp and leave the intersection as it has been, keep plugging away to find money for the preferred design, or keep the ramp closed.
Contact John Briggs at 660-1863 or firstname.lastname@example.org.