After decades of talk about eliminating the Concord rotary on Route 2, state officials are kicking off a study that will look at the environmental impact of three design options.
Town officials are eager for the redesign to get started and say the environmental impact report is a small but important step in the process.
"It's been a priority for the last 25 years," said Town Manager Christopher Whelan.
The preliminary designs call for eliminating the rotary, at an estimated cost of $20 million, so that traffic traveling on Route 2 will go straight through without having to stop. There will be exits for local traffic to get off Route 2 and cross the highway from above.
The goal of the redesign is to reduce traffic congestion and improve safety along the busy east-west highway, officials said.
There were initially 10 designs, now narrowed to three, Whelan said. Recently, the state issued a $3.15 million contract to Earth Tech, an environmental consultant, to prepare the report and work the schematics up to a 25 percent design.
A public hearing is expected to take place early next month for residents to get more information about the process and to comment on the plans, said Klark Jessen, a spokesman for the state Highway Department.
"The backup on Route 2 forces people to cut through West Concord, and we get gridlock in the village," Whelan said.
The cut-through traffic, combined with cars headed to the commuter rail station there, makes West Concord extremely congested, he said.
"If Route 2 traffic can be kept moving and with more coordination with the lights, our hope is the traffic will stay on Route 2 and off village side streets," Whelan said.
Concord is not the only community to feel the impact of the traffic buildup at the rotary. Acton neighborhoods also get flooded with commuters looking for shortcuts, and many Acton residents are also commuters who get stuck in the backup, said Dore Hunter, a former selectman and current member of the Route 2 Corridor Advisory Committee.
"We are very interested in the idea of getting people down the highway efficiently and reducing as much as possible the spill-through traffic through neighborhoods," Hunter said.
A popular cut-through heading east in the morning is to take School Street in Acton just before the rotary. Residents then can take different side roads through West Concord to get back to Route 2. Hunter, who lives off School Street, said he can always tell how backed up the rotary is by the number of cars traveling on School Street in the morning.
But it's not all about traffic congestion, Whelan said.
The rotary is also a hot spot for accidents, mostly fender-benders.
Still, "it's a safety concern," he said.
Though the project is getting underway, it is still years away from becoming a reality. The environmental report is due to the state by May 2009, with construction slated for summer 2011 at the earliest. "The whole environmental process for a project of this magnitude does take a significant time," Jessen said.
This early design phase will compare the three options and review how they affect local roads, the environment, and the nearby correctional facility and State Police barracks. The report will also incorporate the design of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, which needs to cross Route 2. The bike path starts in Lowell and will go through Concord south to Framingham.
Hunter said he is pleased that the environmental report is going forward but is skeptical the project will be completed anytime soon.
He said the project has been delayed several times while the state continues to work on plans for improving Crosby's Corner in Concord and Lincoln.
Hunter said the three communities agreed years ago that Crosby's Corner would take priority to the rotary project.
The rotary project has been languishing since, he said.
"At this point, I don't think it will happen in my lifetime," said Hunter, who is 74. "It's been rather frustrating."
Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at email@example.com.