By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — For a while last night, the town was stuck at a traffic light.
After a series of votes and much discussion, selectmen eventually recommended 3-2 that the state Department of Transportation keep the traffic light at the intersection of routes 111 and 111A.
In a two-hour meeting where the board struggled to find consensus, selectmen Kathleen DiFruscia, Roger Hohenberger and Ross McLeod supported the motion.
Selectmen Phil LoChiatto and Al Letizio Jr. opposed the recommendation. They said they believed DOT’s plan to relocate 111A to the west, closer to Interstate 93, and install a light there would ultimately be better for traffic, businesses and residents.
The decision pleased Max Puyanic, CEO of ConvenientMD, one of the businesses located near the intersection that are fighting to keep the light.
“This is very good for us,” Puyanic said.
But Peter Stamnas, project manager for DOT, acknowledged after the meeting the selectmen’s recommendation is just that, a recommendation, and not binding on the state.
Stamnas said the final decision of what to do about the light will be made at a more senior level of the agency. He also detailed DOT’s plans to place a new park-and-ride next to the relocated Route 111A and appealed to the selectmen to support the state plan, including removal of the light.
He said vehicles still could access ConvenientMD and other businesses without the light, while keeping it would slow down travelers going through the area.
When asked the likely outcome of lights at both the new 111A and the existing intersection, he told selectmen, “Delays. You’ll sit in traffic.”
He said DOT will formally unveil the park-and-ride project later, but assured selectmen the decision has been made to place it alongside the new 111A.
Construction would happen in phases and start with 150 spaces. It ultimately could have 450 spaces and potentially a bus station. The first phase would open by 2017.
The new 111A would be completed by 2016.
Hohenberger wanted nothing to do with the DOT plan. “Leave everything the way it is,” he said, but voted with McLeod and DiFruscia when the board appeared deadlocked.
“It sounds like we’re going to get bullied into the state plan,” Hohenberger said.
Stamnas, however, pointed out the DOT’s plans had emerged from meetings with the town dating back a decade ago, when local officials concluded at the time it made sense.
But that was before ConvenientMD and other businesses set up shop around the busy intersection.
Given the shifting opinions in the town, Stamnas conceded, “We can’t satisfy everybody.”
Letizio, meanwhile, said he had abandoned his plan to pursue a roundabout as a possible remedy, once he learned it could be costly and there was insufficient space to develop one.
“I’m in support of the state’s plan as it is,” he said.
McLeod supported relocating 111A, but pressed Stamnas over the possibility of delaying the light’s removal until later, when one might be installed at nearby Delahunty Drive. “What would be the downside to doing that?” he asked.
“We’re just pushing off the decision,” Stamnas told him.
LoChiatto was concerned about putting too many lights up on Route 111. “That is really going to create a bottleneck,” he said.
DiFruscia wanted the light to stay because she didn’t want to hurt businesses. When the board appeared unable to give DOT a recommendation, she was ready to adjourn and give the public a chance to provide more input.
“We want to do what’s in the best interest of the town,” DiFruscia said.
At one point, LoChiatto proposed the board take no action.
“Then what would happen? You would proceed with your plan?” Hohenberger asked.
“Yes, sir,” Stamnas told him.