DOT: No traffic light at Walnut Hill Road

DOT: No traffic light at Walnut Hill Road

The Woonsocket Department of Public Works removes portions of a wall on the corner of Walnut Hill Road and Diamond Hill Road in January. The State Traffic Commission has voted against installing a light at the intersection. (Breeze photo by Robert Emerson)
Road diet still on the table

WOONSOCKET – The Rhode Island State Traffic Commission has voted against installing a light at the intersection of Diamond Hill and Walnut Hill roads, one of several safety measures considered after a man died at the intersection last June.

Members of the State Traffic Commission voted unanimously last Wednesday, May 5, against installing a traffic light at the intersection. The request was initially put before the commission for consideration by state Rep. Robert Phillips last year.

The vote came after employees of both the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and VHB, a consultant hired to study the intersection, testified against installing a light. Sean Raymond, a managing engineer with the RIDOT, said the recommendation was based on federal guidelines.

“When we look into approving a signal, we look into whether it must meet federal guidelines to do so. A lot of it has to do with traffic volumes,” Raymond said.

According to Raymond, a RIDOT review found that 20 crashes took place at the intersection over the past five years. Of those crashes, he said, one was fatal, one was considered incapacitating, six led to serious injuries, and 12 were considered non-injury-causing.

Raymond said the RIDOT also found speeding was an issue on Diamond Hill Road. The 85th percentile speed, considered to be the speed at which 85 percent of motorists prefer to travel, was around 50 mph in the 35 mph zone, he said.

Despite the speeding concerns, the intersection did not meet federal warrants for installing a light, according to Kayla Northup, an engineer with VHB. Northup said all three of the top warrants are based on traffic counts. The intersection averaged 6,980 vehicles per day along Diamond Hill Road prior to the pandemic, not enough to meet the federal warrants.

“For warrant one, there would need to be almost 200 more vehicles per hour to meet that warrant and two times more vehicles on Walnut Hill Road,” she said.

In January, after months of lobbying by relatives of a crash victim, the city removed a pair of decorative walls and a tree that belonged to the neighboring apartment complex. Both Raymond and Northup said the removal has significantly improved visibility for drivers, and the intersection has not seen a crash since.

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, addressing the commission, said the city has also been in conversation with Verizon about removing an above-ground communications cabinet and chain-link fence from the corner. She said the company has agreed to rewire their systems by using their underground manholes and conduits.

“We are told that this work has been sent to their construction division and that they’re hoping to begin this work within a month,” she said.

Jennifer Blain, whose son, Johnathan, died in the crash last year, told The Breeze she was disappointed in the vote on the traffic light but grateful to the city for addressing the walls. In particular, she thanked Baldelli-Hunt, Public Works Director Steven D’Agostino and Councilor James Cournoyer, who raised the issue during a council meeting last year.

“Although I understand, as Johnathan’s mother I still am disappointed as I believe that in conjunction with the wall and tree being down would be the best and safest option,” she said.

While the traffic light is no longer on the table, Raymond said the state is still considering other options to improve the intersection. One of those options is a “road diet,” which would reduce the number of lanes on that stretch of Diamond Hill Road from five to three.

“One of the benefits of road diets is with the speeds. We saw high speeds captured out here, and I think part of that has to do with a large number of lanes,” he said.

Blain said she’s conducted her own speed tests at the intersection and would be in favor of the road diet. As she sits at the corner memorial to her son, she said, she often sees people, including children, try to cross all five lanes of traffic.

Raymond said they’re working with the city on the matter and want to make sure the city is comfortable with the plan before making any changes. Asked whether the city supports the road diet, Baldelli-Hunt told The Breeze they are reviewing plans from the RIDOT and will share them once the Departments of Public Works and Engineering have completed their review.

Blain said she doesn’t plan to let the issue rest.

“Friday (May 7) is 11 months since Johnathan’s life ended at that intersection,” she said. “As his mother, I will continue to work with the city and the state DOT until this intersection is as safe as it can possibly be so that no other family has to see their child’s life end needlessly.”

Comments

Thank you for finally fixing the problem which was taking down the wall. Now if we can take down the stop signs on Lefrancois Blvd..... Where is Lefrancois Blvd? That's my point, it's a side street off Mendon road where 3 straight intersections have 4 way stop signs. Why they are there is beyond me, oh and I almost when through the new one on grove street. Not because I was going fast but being a resident for 50 years, there wasn't one there before.

Speed enforcement or the lack thereof in Woonsocket is the problem ... Speed Limits vary in areas of Mendon and Diamond Hill Roads between 30 and 35 MPH... VERY FEW OBEY THE SPEED LIMIT!!! ... Most cars are speeding between 50 and 60 MPH and many of these drivers are totally distracted ... We need more police and more enforcement of ALL laws in Woonsocket ...