Traffic Improvements Needed Near New England Tech
While New England Tech students will add to an already overwhelmed intersection, several mitigation techniques are in the works.
Even before the New England Institute of Technology moved to town, the crossroad of South County Trail and Division Street was the most congested intersection in East Greenwich.
"Without a doubt it's the busiest," said Lt. Jim Poccia of the East Greenwich Police. "Between 3 and 5 in the afternoon it routinely gridlocks."
But even with more than 1,000 students slated to start commuting to the new New England Tech campus starting in January, state traffic experts expect the situation will get better, not worse. That's because there are a series of road and traffic improvements in the works that are designed to mitigate the congestion.
"According to our analysis, even with the additional traffic generated by New England Tech, we think the improvements are going to more than mitigate the situation," said Bob Rocchio, the managing engineer of the trafic design division of the state Department of Transportation.
"In fact," he said, "we think it actually should be better than the conditions were before New England Tech."
New traffic lane on Division Street
The most visible change will be an additional lane of traffic on Division Street between South County Trail and the Route 4 on-ramp. This project should be complete by the end of spring, said Town Manager Bill Sequino. It is being paid for by New England Tech.
Rocchio said the extra lane will ease the congestion caused by people trying to drive from I-95 North to Route 4 South.
"The congestion is caused because so many people are trying to go eastbound [on Division] to get to either Route 4 or 95," Rocchio said.
Currently there is no way to get either from 95 North to Route 4 South, or Route 4 North to 95 South, without going through the intersection at South County Trail and Division Street.
Rocchio said the best solution would be to make a connector between those two roads. However, that project could cost $100 million, and RIDOT is currently in a funding crunch. "It's not looking good unless we get another funding source," he said.
More traffic improvements
But even without that big picture solution, RIDOT has implemented several other strategies to help alleviate traffic at this busy intersection.
A new traffic light just south of this intersection between the new CVS and the entrance to the shopping plaza across the street will help, Rocchio said. Lt. Poccia agreed.
"Coming out of Walgreens is where we get some of our most severe accidents in town," Poccia said. "I don't pull out there. I drive around and go through the intersection, even if I'm going south."
The new traffic light, which is being constucted now, should both reduce the number of accidents there and alleviate some of the congestion at the intersection, said Rocchio.
Another improvement, Rocchio said, is that the three consecutive traffic signals on Division between South County Trail and the 95 North on-ramp will soon be synchronized so drivers will have a better chance of getting three straight green lights.
"It will try to establish what's called a green wave," Rocchio said. "In theory, there will be more of a chance to get three straight green lights."
A round-about is also supposed to be constructed on Division Street between NEIT and Amtrol to the north, but the town is still negotiating with several property owners on the north side of Division Street, including Amtrol, because additional land is needed to construct the traffic circle.
"They haven't given us the land yet," said Sequino, the town manager. "But there is no reason why they shouldn't. It will benefit them, as well."
Phil Parsons, the chief counsel for NEIT, said students and faculty won't have a large impact on the traffic situation even without the improvements because at most times of the day students will be on an opposite schedule as local commuters.
"Our busiest time of day will be in the morning," he said, noting that about 450 students will be coming to class at that time of day. "When people are leaving for work, our students will be on their way here."
However, NEIT's second busiest time of day will be for its night session, which starts at around 6 p.m. — not long after Lt. Poccia said was the busiest time of day for the already overwhelmed intersection. For that session, NEIT anticipates some 300 students coming to school, and this time they will be going the same way as the commuter traffic.