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Traffic signal at scene of fatal accident is prime suspect



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Traffic turns into the crosswalk on Mason Street while the WALK signal is clearly lit. While the light is not against state law critics are saying it needs to be changed before another serious accident occurs. Erik Eisele. (click for larger version)
September 29, 2010
BERLIN — The pedestrian crossing signal at the intersection of Mason and Pleasant Streets has come under scrutiny as a result of the fatal accident there last week.

When the traffic light at the intersection of Pleasant and Mason turns green for cars driving south on Pleasant, the pedestrian crossing signal on Mason Street changes from a red STOP hand to a white WALK indicator. That's despite one of the Pleasant Street traffic lights being a left turn arrow, which is green the same time as the WALK signal is displayed, allowing traffic to turn into the open pedestrian corridor.

"That needs to be resolved immediately," said Councilor Lucie Remillard.

Two people called her last week to tell her about the lights, she said, so she went to take a look. When she saw it was true she immediately sent a response to the city manager.

"My electrician just had five calls," said public works director Michael Perreault. "It's a hot potato right now."

It's a hot potato because a 57 year old woman was killed last week, but stopping traffic in multiple directions is more difficult than flipping a switch.

The city traffic has two traffic lights that are actuated, Mr. Perreault said, meaning the lights stop all traffic when a pedestrian pushes the button: at the intersection of Hutchins Street and East Mason, and at the intersection of Pleasant Street and Green Street.

But upgrading the other stoplights won't be easy, he said. "It's not a $6 upgrade."

"This stuff is obsolete," he said, pointing to the stoplight at the intersection of Main Street and Mason just outside his office. The program cards that run the lights aren't even manufactured anymore, he said, the city has the last ones in the country.

But he is concerned about the situation. He had the WALK and STOP signals replaced because they were a little bit faded, and public works got the buttons working for the first time in years on the Hutchins and East Mason signals earlier this year.

"Right now it's at the forefront," he said, so he's looking into what it would take to make the upgrades. Replacing an entire traffic signal apparatus would cost around $150,000, he said, but he's looking for other alternatives before he makes a recommendation. "I'm waiting for the numbers."

The city has six stoplights, and only two of them are actuated.

The police department, meanwhile, said it's important for drivers to remember pedestrians have the right of way, even if drivers have a green light.

And Councilor Remillard said she will continue to push to get something changed at Pleasant and Mason. "Regardless of the cost it has to be changed."

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