Belmont Circle Roundabout

Massachusetts highway officials have proposed modifying Belmont Circle in the manner shown above.

What were they thinking? That was my first reaction upon seeing the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s proposal to revamp Belmont Circle and the ramps connecting it to Route 25 at the entrance to downtown Buzzards Bay.

Belmont Circle, sometimes called the east rotary, is neither a circle nor a rotary. It is more of a square; a confusing detour for thousands of visitors trying to get down-Cape.

A large portion of the traffic on Route 25 uses this exit, but both the off-ramp and the on-ramp are only one lane wide. The off-ramp then forces all traffic to go around the circle. Motorists suffer the effects of two major design flaws that compound each other every day year-round.

After 12 years of study, the state’s consulting engineers came up with a plan that does three things right and one thing so wrong that it boggles the mind.

They recommend widening both the off-ramp and the on-ramp to two lanes, connecting all lanes directly with Scenic Highway, and adding a traffic signal for local traffic heading to or from Main Street and the bypass road. Those are all essential improvements that would correct the past design errors.

Those changes would encourage more traffic heading to the Mid-Cape Highway to exit here and take Scenic Highway to the Sagamore Bridge instead of crossing the Bourne Bridge, clogging the bridge rotary and Sandwich Road, and backing up MacArthur Boulevard. On Saturday mornings in the summer, 59 percent of the traffic heading east on Route 25 to the Mid-Cape now uses the Bourne Bridge and Sandwich Road to get there.

But the engineers went totally off the rails when they proposed replacing the big square circle with a tiny roundabout that would consolidate all traffic using Main Street, Head of the Bay Road, and the bypass.

This inane plan would choke off our burgeoning downtown and make it difficult for tractor trailers to get to local businesses.

The state proposal limits access to CVS, the Mobil station, and other businesses now located around Belmont Circle. It also proposes a redundant access ramp from Scenic Highway to Route 25 branching off at the already dangerous intersection with Nightingale Pond Road.

As a professional planner with more than half a century of experience in transportation studies, I consider roundabouts to be an abomination. They have all the disadvantages of rotaries but on a tighter scale.

Even their proponents admit that they don’t work well where traffic volumes exceed 4,000 vehicles per day, which is less than one-third of the traffic at this location.

Roundabouts have been promoted under the concept of “traffic calming” by the same people who want everyone to ditch their cars and travel only by bicycle, bus, or train. While that may be an admirable goal, it is highly myopic and won’t happen by making driving more aggravating.

Highway departments across the country have been replacing signalized intersections with roundabouts because they are less expensive to maintain. The state plan to put one in Buzzards Bay needs to be deep-sixed before it gets any farther along in the development process. We already have a bad situation resulting from earlier road design errors. Let’s not make it worse.

Wesley J. Ewell lives in Bourne.

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