ST. ALBANS CITY — Traffic engineers have recommended St. Albans City delay the installation of a traffic light at the corner of Lake and Federal streets and instead install a four-way stop.
The installation of the stop signs, anticipated in the coming months, is to be accompanied by work on the layout of the intersection itself. Changes would improve the alignment of Catherine and Federal streets, which terminate at the same Lake Street intersection.
Engineers from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB) attended Monday night’s city council meeting to explain their recommendation. Also on had was Peter Cross of Cross Consulting Engineers, who is overseeing multiple city projects connected to the intersection.
Traffic volumes at the intersection – a block west of the Lake and North Main junction — are not sufficient to require a stoplight at this point, said Cross.
One of the challenges of placing a signal at the intersection is the need to avoid stopping cars on the railroad tracks to the west, explained Cross.
Originally, the city’s engineers and the railroad had discussed a system to allow the railroad to preempt the traffic signal when a train was coming. The preemption would have stopped traffic turning onto Lake while allowing traffic on Lake Street time to clear the tracks before the arrival of a train.
However, when engineers determined how much time would be needed to clear the tracks, they learned an automatic preemption trigger would have to be placed 600 feet from the intersection, explained Cross. At that distance, there was an increased chance of false activations.
“They were looking at up to 20 false activations per day,” said Cross.
The city and the railroad also discussed using key pads in which a person would enter a numerical code to preempt the signal, but New England Central Railroad officials said that would not work with their operations, according to Cross.
Next, the VHB engineers considered an expanded light system that would have included a movable gate or bar preventing cars traveling east on Lake Street from advancing onto the tracks during a red light. Such a system would have added three minutes to the cycling of traffic through the light, explained VHB engineer Chris Bobay.
The length of the stop signal would result in a level of service at the intersection of D, the same as with a four-way stop, said Bobay. The level of service is currently an E or F, he said.
The natural cycling of vehicles through the four-way stop would allow enough time for cars to clear the tracks before a train could arrive, said Bobay.
The four-way stop would still require the city to purchase easements or rights of way to make changes. These same steps would be necessary in order to install traffic lights, said Cross.
The advantages of a four-way stop are that it would allow the placement of crosswalks right at the intersection, improving pedestrian visibility, explained Mike Servatas of VHB.
The original plan for a light with preemption would have cost $800,000, said Cross. The second plan for a bar to accompany the light would have cost $700,000. A preliminary estimate of the four-way stop is $300,000 or less to make the needed changes to the intersection.
Delaying the installation of the light also will give the city time to seek federal funds to help pay for it, explained Cross. The Federal Street multi-modal connector project, which will provide an alternative route from the I-89 Access Road through the city to Lower Newton Street, already includes the installation of a light at the intersection of Federal and Lake streets. The city has been actively seeking federal transportation funds to support the connector.
Mayor Liz Gamache asked about the safety of a four-way stop. “All vehicles are required to stop,” answered Bobay. “You can see pedestrians in the crosswalk.”
The proposal also includes the loss of parking places in front of the St. Albans House on Lake Street and along the New England Central Railroad building on Federal Street. Ward 6 council member Chad Spooner expressed concern about that.
“You’re close enough to the garage, use that,” said Scott Corrigan, Ward 2 council representative, of the availability of alternative parking spaces.
Ward 1 representative Tim Hawkins, who previously chaired the city’s parking committee, said he was not concerned about losing the parking on Federal Street. “It just bungles up that area more,” he said.
“I’d rather make it more pedestrian friendly,” Hawkins added later.
City manager Dominic Cloud, however, said the engineers would re-visit the parking and restore some parking spaces they could.
Work on the intersection could be completed this summer, he said.