Joe Walsh was mayor – that’s 37 years ago now – when, in a desperate effort to free the Apponaug traffic bottleneck, the current one-way rotary system was created.
In a fashion, it worked. Traffic speeded up, although until it is widened, which isn’t likely to happen, the railroad underpass remains a choke point.
At the time, the rotary pattern was thought to be a temporary fix while planners and engineers worked out a permanent solution. In six months, the one-way excursion around the village would be a dim memory, or so it was thought.
Years went by and the Apponaug bypass seemed to be little more than a dream. On paper, it looked terrific. With an extension of Veterans Memorial Drive to the Toll Gate-Centerville intersection, and the possibility of connecting the Post Road extension south to West Shore Road, those who wanted to avoid the village could.
Former Mayor Lincoln Chafee pushed the plan and it looked like it might happen when Gov. Bruce Sundlun budgeted the project at $11 million. But, as we know, the plan lingered in limbo and most of the money went elsewhere. It resurfaced about six years ago in the form of another plan.
This one is radically different, in that roundabouts are used in place of traffic-signaled intersections. The plan caught the fancy of many, especially the findings from experts that roundabouts – not rotaries, which are bigger – kept traffic moving steadily. The village association bought into the plan, as did the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and elected officials. Everyone looked to be on board and excited about what it could mean for the future of Apponaug.
But then years went by. Sections of the mill building were demolished, the state purchased a few properties and “Walsh’s Rotary” kept turning.
The Department of Transportation, however, kept at it. The building at the corner of Greenwich Avenue and Veterans Memorial Drive came down last week. Construction bids for the project will be opened March 24. The water tower will fall soon. Work will start on the extension to the Toll Gate and Centerville intersection as soon as this spring. Roundabouts will start taking form. It’s going to be somewhat of a mess for some time – actually a little more than two years— and it’s all going to cost $33.6 million.
“We’re as close as we have ever been,” planner Richard Crenca says of the project.
The rotary came into existence soon after Crenca joined the department in 1977. He’s followed it ever since.
Will it make it any faster? Will it spark the revitalization envisioned for Apponaug?
It’s too soon to know, but the change that will have its critics and its devotees will create a whole new series of merry-go-rounds. If anything, that should be fun.