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Flagpole Traffic Problems Under Review - Again



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Town officials this week again tackled the thorny issue of traffic problems at the flagpole intersection, the five-legged intersection in the town center that holds the 100-foot-tall landmark flagpole where Main Street, Church Hill Road, and West Street meet.

The flagpole, which is not shielded by barriers, stands squarely in the intersection. The massive pole holds several round yellow-and-black traffic signs, informing motorists to “Go Right” around the pole while negotiating the intersection, which has a high accident rate.

Motorists traveling on Main Street have the right of way at the intersection. Access to the intersection for motorists on westbound Church Hill Road and on eastbound West Street is controlled by stop signs. 

The intersection is the site of numerous accidents stemming from vehicle-turning conflicts. Also, motorists who are involved in one-vehicle accidents there typically drive into the flagpole itself.

Long a historic focal point and an enduring symbol of the town, public discussion of traffic safety at the flagpole occasionally resurfaces at public meetings.

A traffic study, published several years ago, recommended the creation of a “roundabout” at the intersection to better manage traffic flow there. That idea was never implemented.

Although West Street is a town road, both Main Street (State Route 25, US Route 6) and Church Hill Road (US Route 6) are state-maintained roads.

Police Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico told commission members on January 6 that he is concerned about the traffic hazards at the flagpole intersection. The Police Commission is the local traffic authority.

Certain changes are required to improve traffic safety there, he said.

Mr Mangiafico had emphasized the traffic hazards at the intersection at a December 16 Police Commission session when the discussion topic was Newtown Hook & Ladder Volunteer Fire Company’s plans to construct a firehouse at 12 Church Hill Road. At that session, Mr Mangiafico said the flagpole intersection poses a “monstrous problem” for traffic flow in that area.

That intersection “has been a thorn in this town’s side for more than three decades,” he said. “We should try to look at it and see if anything can be done.”

“It’s a complex situation… It’s an unsafe situation… We have a really difficult situation,” he added.

“It’s obviously a very historic landmark in this town,” commission member Joel Faxon said of the flagpole.

Commission member Brian Budd said the panel’s review of traffic issues does not involve removing the flagpole or relocating the flagpole elsewhere. But making certain compromises should be considered in terms of the public safety issues posed by the intersection, he said.

Not dealing with the issues is not the way to handle the matter, he said.

First Selectman Pat Llodra asked whether the traffic issue at the flagpole intersection involves the amount of traffic that travels there.

“I don’t know that there is a viable solution,” she said, adding that research should be done on the issue. Noting the historic aspect of the flagpole, she said, “I don’t know what the options are, frankly.”

Mrs Llodra said the intersection does not have enough space for the creation of a roundabout.

“I think the difficulties are going to persist” at the intersection, Mr Faxon said.

“If we do nothing, it’ll get worse… It’s worse today than it was 20 years ago,” Mr Mangiafico said.

“It’s a difficult situation,” said James Gaston, who is the borough warden and also a selectmen.

“I’ve lived on Main Street for 23 years,” Mr Gaston noted, stressing his familiarity with flagpole-related issues.

Mr Gaston said the state Department of Transportation (DOT) does not want to install traffic signals at the flagpole intersection because it does not want to stop traffic flow on the busy Main Street.

“You will destroy Main Street if you put [traffic] lights there,” he said.

Also, if a roundabout were to be created, it would require the state to acquire land at properties adjacent to the intersection to do so, he said.

“The flagpole is iconic, the jewel of Newtown,” Mr Gaston said, noting its designation as an official landmark and its location within the Borough of Newtown Historic District.

State Representative Mitch Bolinsky suggested that the town have the state perform a traffic study focusing on flagpole intersection traffic issues.

Mr Bolinskly noted that while driving on January 5, he was cut-off at that intersection by a gasoline tanker truck driver.

He suggested that better paint markings be placed on the pavement at the intersection to improve traffic flow.

Mrs Llodra urged that town officials be very careful before pursuing any redesign of the intersection, when considering the historical significance of the location. She suggested that “subtle changes” may be all that is needed, not major changes.

Also, she cautioned that the town should not be obligated to comply with any recommendations made by the state following any state traffic study of the intersection.

Robert Merola, a Legislative Council member, explained the problems that motorists encounter when approaching the intersection on eastbound West Street. He suggested that certain changes be made to improve conditions.

Mrs Llodra suggested that motorists be prohibited from making left turns when entering the intersection from West Street.

Mr Mangiafico said that he travels through the intersection frequently. “It’s exceedingly dangerous, no matter what direction you’re going in. It really is a really bad situation,” he said.

The long waits that occur for motorists seeking to enter the intersection result in frustration which causes them to make bad driving decisions, he said.

If the town invites the state to do a traffic study on the intersection, the town may then lose control of Main Street to the state, Mr Gaston cautioned. “There’s a serious risk… You’re messing with fire,” he said.

Mr Bolinsky said, “This is something that has to be treated very gently.”

Police Commission member Virgil Procaccini, Jr, said the flagpole intersection poses many traffic issues for motorists.

He suggested that commercial trucks be prohibited from traveling in that area, adding that signage could be posted by the state on Interstate 84 regarding such a truck prohibition for the flagpole intersection area.

Mrs Llodra also suggested some signage changes on I-84 to keep trucks away from the town center.

George Benson, town director of planning, suggested that town officials collectively formulate some recommendations to the state for changes at the flagpole intersection to improve conditions.

“Hopefully, we can come up with some ideas,” Mr Mangiafico said.

Police Commission members are expected to further discuss the flagpole intersection issues at upcoming sessions.

An overhead view of the flagpole intersection. Main Street runs on a diagonal from top to bottom of the frame. Church Hill Road extends from the upper right corner to the center of the image. West Street extends from the center of the image to the lower left corner. The steeple of the Newtown Meeting House casts its shadow onto the flagpole intersection.  
Michael Galante, a traffic engineer for Frederick P. Clark Associates, Inc, of Fairfield, explains the details of a traffic report on the Main Street flagpole intersection, suggesting changes that could be made there, including traffic signal installation, to reduce the high motor vehicle accident rate. The view in the photo displayed on the easel is southward on Main Street toward the flagpole intersection. Mr Galante spoke at a January 5 Police Commission meeting.      
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