Plans for rebuilding the Harlem-Kensington-Wehrle intersection are scheduled to be completed later this month, and one idea calls for side-by-side roundabouts arranged in an unusual figure-8 pattern, state highway designers say.
Transportation officials have not selected a final design, spokesman Thomas Messana stressed, but designers believe the two-circle plan could help ease traffic problems for Amherst and Cheektowaga drivers at one of the area's most congested and confusing intersections.
More than 15,000 vehicles a day travel on Harlem Road between Cleveland and Wehrle drives, according to transportation statistics. That number is expected to climb to nearly 17,000 by 2006.
The plan -- one of two being shown to the public -- depicts a larger roundabout centered near Wehrle Drive and Harlem Road and a smaller one on the north, near the present intersection of Kensington Avenue and Harlem.
Officials also are considering a plan that would maintain the present design of the intersection, which is now laid out as a triangle with traffic lights at all three points.
"We're trying to work through all the comments and concerns that have been raised since our public meeting in June," said Messana, assistant regional design engineer for the state Department of Transportation.
"A conventional intersection is still a viable alternative," he added.
Similar two-circle designs have been used elsewhere, but Messana said he is not aware of any design where roundabouts were constructed as close together as they would be in this case.
Roundabouts, which have been used to rebuild Symphony Circle, near Kleinhans Music Hall, and those being planned in the Village of Hamburg, are modified traffic circles, according to highway designers.
In addition to being smaller than traffic circles, roundabouts are designed to slow traffic by channeling it through islands and traffic signals, officials said. As a result, roundabouts have fewer accidents than other designs for intersections, they said.
To prepare for their possible use in the Harlem-Kensington neighborhood, highway officials have been briefing business and civic groups on the rules for roundabouts, Messana said.
Designers face another decision about how to rebuild Harlem Road north of Kensington, Messana said. Original plans called for curbs, sidewalks and other improvements to be built on both sides of Harlem from Yorktown Road to Saratoga Road.
However, Amherst town officials asked the state to avoid making improvements that might aggravate parking problems for businesses on the east side of the street.
As a result, Messana said officials are now reconsidering whether to go ahead with improvements to the west side of the street, but they have ruled out making changes to the east side.
That's good news for Robert Jaus, co-owner of Hayes Fish Co., 3985 Harlem Road, who led the fight to preserve parking spaces.
"We're happy," Jaus said, adding: "If they put in curbs (on the east side) it would really hurt."