September 2, 2014
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Major intersection improvements planned

Cranston and Johnston officials are teaming up to improve three dangerous and high-traffic intersections across municipal borders. Between spring and summer of 2013, with the help of the Department of Transportation, they hope to rework the traffic patterns at Simmonsville and Plainfield in Johnston, Walnut Grove and Atwood in Cranston and Atwood and Plainfield right on the border between the municipalities.

“We’ve gotten a lot of complaints from these areas,” said Steve Pristawa, P.E., chief civil engineer for the Department of Transportation.

The intersection of Walnut Grove and Atwood Avenue has been a complaint of residents in that area for years. Walnut Grove Avenue and Elena Street come down the hill and meet several hundred feet before Atwood, compounding an already problematic traffic flow. Turning left onto Atwood requires cutting across two lanes into busy oncoming traffic, right outside Ruggieri’s Market.

Mitigating that problem has been a topic of discussion prior to this city administration, and across all levels of government. Ward 5 Councilman Richard Santamaria has worked on the project, which now has the attention of Senator-elect Frank Lombardi and Representative Stephen Ucci. Construction costs to rework the intersection are estimated around $410,000, which will primarily be paid for through DOT, with some city contribution for the work up Walnut Grove Avenue.

“That was one of the single most important issues for the people who live in that neighborhood,” said Lombardi, who heard complaints from constituents while on the campaign trail.

Despite delays, he and Ucci say change is on the way. The state will advertise construction of the intersection this March.

“It’s going to look very different there. It’s not just as simple as putting up a light,” Ucci said.

Ucci says the intersection is perhaps the most important DOT project in the area, as it is the site for so many traffic accidents.

“Safety is number one. We worked with the Cranston Police to understand the volume of accidents there and that moved it way up the priority list,” he said.

The intersection will have a four-way stop with traffic lights in every direction. Stop signs will remain at Elena where the road opens up and merges with Walnut Grove. There will be crosswalks with pedestrian signals in each direction, as Ucci points out that pedestrian traffic in the area is significant.

The same is true for the intersection of Plainfield Pike and Atwood Avenue, which Ucci says sees a “tremendous amount of pedestrian traffic,” especially because of the nearby St. Rocco Church. That project will cost $425,000.

Vehicular traffic is heavy there as well, which will hopefully be mitigated by putting in turn-only lanes. Currently, cars crossing Plainfield into Johnston often speed up at the light in order to pass vehicles that are turning left.

“As you move from Cranston to Johnston, it clearly becomes a traffic flow problem,” Lombardi said. “It becomes a tie-up at 8 in the morning.”

Part of the challenge there is that to improve roadway engineering, property must be acquired to widen the roadway. This has been opposed by businesses in the area, especially Patriot Motors, which will have to give up 270 square feet of land. DOT would have to acquire 223 square feet from Walgreen’s, 599 square feet from Petroil and 140 square feet from the Original Italian Bakery and Deli.

Pristawa said they are trying to strike a balance between improving the intersection and accommodating local businesses.

“We tried to minimize the taking of land,” he said.

Under the current proposed plan, each corner at the intersection would be widened. Atwood Avenue toward Johnston would have a left turn-only lane, and Atwood toward Cranston would have a right turn-only lane. On Plainfield Pike, going toward Providence, there would also be a left turn-only lane.

Though not crucial to the design, municipal officials have requested that DOT paint the poles there black to fit into the surrounding area’s aesthetic. There is discussion of adding a bus shelter to that intersection as well. Advertising of the project would likewise happen in March.

Like the other projects, the intersection of Simmonsville and Plainfield came at the request of area residents, who say they often get stuck between the lights, backing up traffic. The cost to improve the intersection is significantly less than the other two projects, coming in around $165,000.

While Ucci says, “there aren’t as many accidents there,” he still sees the intersection as troublesome. Those lights near the 295 ramp will soon be time coordinated. As an added bonus for neighbors, the overpass area will be cleaned out, crosswalks will be painted and the curbs will be made handicap accessible in compliance with ADA regulations. DOT hopes to tackle the intersection starting in July, when they advertise for construction.

Lombardi says that part of the problem overall, with all of the intersections, is that there is too much traffic flowing onto main arteries from commercial businesses.

“There are too many curb cuts in Johnston,” he said, adding that “it’s not by fault of anyone,” but that planning regulations in the past did not anticipate for the type of commercial growth that the area has experienced. “That inevitably contributes to the traffic flow problem.”


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