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QUINCY

Traffic woes signal need for tweaks

Flaws apparent in design of new Hannon Parkway

Just three months after the fanfare of the Walter J. Hannon Parkway’s opening in Quincy, some flaws in the road’s design have become apparent.

Cars are backing up onto Thomas E. Burgin Parkway; unsynchronized signals can leave traffic stuck in the middle of intersections; green lights last just nine seconds in some locations; and pedestrian crossing signals occur every traffic cycle at some areas, even when there are no pedestrians.

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Jack Gillon, Quincy’s traffic engineer, said he anticipated some problems, but figured things could be worked out once the equipment was in place.

“I remember having some concerns early on, but I was advised if the equipment appears to be reasonable, then perhaps we can move forward and not jeopardize the funding or time schedule,’’ Gillon told city councilors during a meeting last week. “After they opened it on Oct. 7, we noticed that some of the traffic patterns and volumes were different than those predicted by the previous designer. We noticed we were going to have to make some changes.’’

The parkway, named after a former Quincy mayor, Walter J. Hannon, runs from the Burgin Parkway to the Southern Artery, and is intended to divert traffic from Hancock and Granite streets and carry cross-town traffic outside the downtown.

It’s also a key element of Quincy’s downtown redevelopment plan, as moving the through-traffic away from the city center will be vital when traffic increases in the revitalized downtown.

The road was designed by a contractor for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and built with a combination of city money, used to acquire the land, and more than $7 million of federal stimulus money.

While the state hasn’t yet turned over ownership of the parkway, Quincy already has the authority to adjust traffic light schedules, and Gillon said the city’s engineers have been trying to make smaller changes.

Last week city councilors approved Gillon’s recommendation to remove a parking sign at the cut out in front of the gym and career center on the south side of Hannon Parkway. That will allow people to drop off and pick up pedestrians, rather than double park in a lane of traffic.

Already, new signs in the area make driving directions clearer, and a broken white line helps show drivers they have two left-turn lanes out of, or on to, Burgin.

The signals have also been configured to allow traffic to move more often through the Burgin-Hannon intersection during peak hours.

Furthermore, light synchronization is continually being analyzed and changed.

“It’s working better now than when it was first put in. It’s safer now,’’ Gillon said.

According to city planner Dennis Harrington, when federal stimulus funding for the project became available, it could be used only for road designs that had already been approved.

As such, no changes could be made to the MassDOT designs, which were drawn up seven years ago, Harrington said. But conditions have changed since then.

“It wasn’t a bad design; it’s a question of things changing over seven years,’’ Harrington said. “There are a few blemishes as a result of modifications to the downtown plans and there are some adjustments necessary.’’

Even though they fall outside of the parkway’s purview, there are some related issues to be worked out. For example, when cars get backed up onto Burgin Parkway, a queue detector on the Paul Harold Bridge turns that lane’s traffic signal green to clear the backup. But that means the intersection’s light cycle has to start over again, causing congestion elsewhere.

In addition, peak pedestrian times cause traffic to get backed up as people continually push for the walk signal.

Elsewhere, cars wishing to avoid the area altogether are going down Washington Street and on to Elm Street, creating significant traffic in smaller neighborhoods.

Gillon said the city is working on these issues.

“We are continuing to monitor the timing, phasing, and the offsets. I think we are making improvements,’’ Gillon said.

Harrington also said some contractor mistakes have caused congestion, but the city is discovering those and correcting them.

“I think it’s now more than 50 percent cured,’’ Harrington said on Tuesday. “We met again with traffic engineers this morning. They will go back to take an additional look.’’

Yet councilors remained concerned that the current problems will only escalate as the downtown is reconfigured to draw more people to the yet-to-be-realized 400,000 square feet of retail space, as well as residential and office space.

By the time construction occurs in the downtown, however, Harrington said he is confident issues with the Hannon Parkway will be worked out.

“This will all be sorted out way before that. It will be sorted out in 2012. You won’t see any construction until 2014, that I know of,’’ Harrington said.

Two concurrent traffic studies, one being done for the Adams Green and the other in relation to the environmental impact report, will help ensure that the downtown is properly configured for traffic prior to construction, he said.

Councilors have asked for quarterly updates to verify that problems are being worked out.

And whatever problems have arisen, Harrington said, the road is doing what it was intended to do.

“No one expected this roadway to become so popular so fast. It’s taken over traffic in the downtown, and that could never be accounted for,’’ Harrington said.

As for the congestion, it will take some time to sort out, with fixes being made over the next few months as MassDOT wraps up construction.

“The city will continue to tweak in the months of January and December. We’ll continue to tweak . . . The tweaking may go on into the spring. Every time you do something and it makes it better, you have to look back and [evaluate it]. . . . it’s all about fine tuning it,’’ Harrington said.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.
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