AUGUSTA — The number of accidents at Cony Circle has dropped by half — and the number of injuries even more so — since a 2008 reconfiguration aimed at altering one of the state’s most crash-prone junctions.

There were 160 accidents In the 18 months before reconstruction started on the traffic circle in 2008, according to an analysis by the Department of Transportation. In the 18 months after the work ended, there were 80 accidents — a 50 percent cut.

Injuries dropped even more, from 40 before the reconstruction to 13 after — a 68 percent reduction, according to Steve Landry, assistant state traffic engineer.

“That’s pretty significant, we’re very happy about that,” Landry said Wednesday.

He said Cony Circle has “been number one (in the number of accidents) in the state for years.”

“We haven’t seen the numbers for 2010 yet, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be number one anymore,” Landry said.

Augusta police confirm there are significantly fewer accidents there since the reconfiguration.

“We do respond to approximately half of what we used to,” said Major Jared Mills, deputy chief of the department. “That is a considerable reduction.”

Aside from the obvious benefits of there being fewer accidents — fewer injuries to motorists and less damage to vehicles — there are other, less obvious public benefits.

“It frees up officers to handle other complaints by citizens and lessens the time they have to wait for an officer’s response,” Mills said. “The officers are very busy during the day, responding sometimes to one call after another without a break for hours at a time.

“A typical crash, from the time the officer arrives to the time he leaves the scene, is an average of 40 minutes. That is when the vehicles are able to drive away from the scene and a wrecker is not called. It is longer if the vehicles have to be towed away.”

It cost about $2.1 million to reconfigure and repave the circle in 2008 and 2009.

Landry noted the cost savings to motorists in avoided accidents is likely significant.

“I think it was well worth the money spent there to get that (new layout) down,” Landry said.

Mills said that, even with the dramatic reduction in accidents, Cony Circle is still a high crash area compared to other intersections. But it also gets the most vehicle traffic in the city on a typical day, he said.

The reasons crashes have decreased on the circle, in Mills’ opinion, are:

* the markings on the road stand out more;

* the shape of the roundabout forces vehicles to go slower and gives them more lanes as they enter it; and

* the reconfiguration eliminated the circle’s most frequent crash point, the exit onto Stone Street.

Previously, vehicles entering Stone Street from Memorial Drive had to merge into a lane of traffic coming off Cony Circle. Part of the reconfiguration reduced the number of lanes coming off the circle onto Stone Street from two to one, and it gave Memorial Drive motorists a separate lane that’s not part of the roundabout onto Stone Street.

“Before vehicles (merging from Memorial Drive onto Stone Street) would stop, start to go, stop quickly and then be struck from behind,” Mills said. “This has virtually been eliminated with the new configuration.”

The redesigned Cony Circle now has signs, stripes and arrows indicating which lane motorists should get in — and stay in — to get into the circle and exit where they want.

Previously, there were only stripes marking the two lanes around the circle.

It was also was redesigned to slow traffic. The changes converted the intersection from a rotary to a roundabout, state officials said.

The difference between the two, primarily, is the shape. Roundabouts include design features that better control the speed and movement of vehicles through an intersection.

Across the river on Western Avenue, there’s also been an approximately 30 percent drop in the number of accidents since traffic signals on the street were coordinated, Landry said in an email to city officials.

Taken together, “I think we have made Augusta a safer place,” Landry wrote.

He is hopeful future data will show changes made on the west side of the Kennebec River also have resulted in a reduced number of crashes.

The west side’s Memorial Circle has often been the site, behind the east side’s Cony Circle, of the second-most crashes in the state.

Both rotaries were built in 1948 as part of the construction of Memorial Bridge.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]


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