Saratoga County

Public rises up to halt roundabouts in Malta

Residents who oppose new roundabouts have become more vocal in recent weeks, but the traffic circles

It’s all but certain traffic will keep growing in the southern part of town, generally for reasons beyond the town’s control.

Hundreds of new homes are being built in Ballston, and those people travel Malta’s roads to reach the Northway. Scores of commercial trucks from the new intermodal rail center in Halfmoon also go to Northway Exit 11.

At the same time, GlobalFoundries and other technology business development have people commuting into and out of Malta.

There’s a debate about the best way to accommodate all the added traffic, especially around plans to improve Round Lake Road west of Exit 11. Residents who oppose new roundabouts have become more vocal in recent weeks, but the traffic circles also have their defenders.

The town already has gotten 13 roundabouts in the last six years, including the series of five around Northway Exit 12. They remain a controversial topic, even after being in place for several years. At least initially, they increased the rate of “fender-bender” accidents, but fewer accidents involving injuries were reported.

For Round Lake Road, a draft town-funded engineering study said new roundabouts at the intersections with Raylinsky/Ruhle roads and with Chango Drive would improve traffic flow, as part of an overall $4.75 million street improvement program. But more than 200 local residents have now signed petitions telling the Town Board they think traffic lights are preferable, “in the interest of public safety.”

The argument is that with the number of businesses, plus an elementary school and nearby concentrations of housing developments, adults and youths often cross the road, and will be at more risk with roundabouts, where vehicles are slowed, but keep moving.

“The safest thing is when traffic stops,” said one resident who asked not to be named and prefers traffic lights.

The Raylinsky Road intersection has a traffic light now, while the intersection at Chango — where Hannaford this year opened a new supermarket — is controlled only with a stop sign on Chango. New traffic lights would probably involve widening the road and adding turn lanes.

Town Supervisor Paul Sausville said the final decision between roundabouts and traffic lights will be made by the Town Board, and hasn’t been made yet.

On Nov. 5, he said a final presentation will be made to the Town Board by engineering consultants The Chazen Group, and the board will set a public hearing, probably for Dec. 3. After that, he expects the town to commission a preliminary engineering design study, which will look more closely at both alternatives.

Roundabouts “are the preferred alternative, but the answer is that we won’t really know until we do the preliminary design. They will look at both alternatives,” Sausville said.

He said the residents’ petition against roundabouts will have a bearing on the final decision.

“Given the choice between two equals, the wishes of the people are certainly important to me,” Sausville said.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Transportation will be removing signs on the Northway that direct traffic headed for the Luther Forest Technology Campus to Exit 11. The signs were erected by February 2010, in response to heavy construction and delivery traffic going to GlobalFoundries and a separate project to build a roundabout at Route 9 and Stonebreak Road.

The Stonebreak Road roundabout was finished last year, but the signs have remained in place, and at least some Exit 11 area residents think they have contributed to local traffic congestion. Sausville said the plan has always been that people going to GlobalFoundries from the Northway can use either Exit 12 and the Stonebreak Road entrance or the Exit 11-Round Lake Bypass entrance.

“Stonebreak Road was intended to be one of the primary entrances,” he said.

Sausville said the roundabouts built at Exit 12, the Round Lake Bypass, and the roundabouts on Dunning Street in the Luther Forest housing development are all part of the town’s efforts to manage traffic growth, and so is the pending Round Lake Road project. He said the town follows the “complete streets” approach, in which lanes or paths for bikes and pedestrians are included in new projects.

“At the end of the day, I think people will be very happy with how we have accommodated traffic congestion,” Sausville said.

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