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After two years, traffic almost ready to go roundabout Harlem Road stretch has face-lift, retooling

Orange construction cones on Harlem Road in Amherst should come down within three weeks.

That's when motorists can drive the full 1.8-mile section of road north of Genesee Street to north of Kensington Avenue on a smooth, reconstructed surface while tooling around three roundabouts.

Ben Dunkle, a professor of digital media studies, is among many motorists who are happy to hear that two years of construction on Harlem are finally coming to an end.

Up until the $21.1 million project began two years ago, Dunkle -- who lives in Snyder just off of Harlem Road -- had relied on Harlem as the fastest way to get to the Kensington Expressway, which he took to Canisius College.

"The construction just got too much," he recalled. "Luckily, I had an alternate road. I took Kensington Avenue. But it was a little bit longer. I would say two or three minutes longer. It wasn't really that big of a deal, but it definitely wasn't a smoother road. . . . You're also dealing with more traffic and stop lights. It was not as easy a ride."

But Dunkle's not entirely sure about the roundabouts, particularly the double roundabout at Wehrle Drive and Kensington Avenue. "It's like a figure eight," he said. "It's bizarre."

While he's willing to give the roundabouts a shot, he's worried about other drivers. "I think people will need to get used to it. People around here aren't accustomed to it. A couple of times, I've seen people stop for people coming into the roundabout, which they're not supposed to do."

Tuesday, state and local officials were on hand at Harlem and Cleveland Drive as a ceremonial ribbon was cut to signify the project's near completion. The entire project is expected to be completed within three weeks, but officials wanted to commemorate it before the weather worsened. Landscaping work will be done in the spring.

The project involved a total reconstruction of the road, including new water lines and storm sewers, from just north of Genesee Street in Cheektowaga to just north of Kensington Avenue in Amherst.

It also included the installation of the double roundabouts at Kensington Avenue and Wehrle Drive, and a single one at Cleveland Drive.

The road was widened at Maryvale Drive and under the Kensington Expressway, sidewalks were added on the east side of Harlem from Genesee to Maryvale Drive, and decorative street lights are being installed.

The Harlem-Kensington-Wehrle intersection, which had been known as a congested and confusing area, has been transformed into side-by-side roundabouts, which are designed for traffic to flow in a figure eight pattern.

DOT officials say traffic studies show roundabouts are safer and more efficient than conventional traffic signals, and help conserve on fuel, electricity, construction and maintenance costs. They also reduce the severity and frequency of accidents once motorists get used to them, officials say.

The state Department of Transportation hopes the roundabouts will provide a "traffic-calming element," Regional Director Alan Taylor said Tuesday at the Cleveland Drive roundabout.

Taylor was joined by State Sen. Mary Lou Rath, R-Amherst, the supervisors of Cheektowaga and Amherst and Amherst Council Member Shelly Schratz.

The two-year construction period was difficult on the retail area, but residents of both towns worked together on pushing for the reconstruction.

"We didn't want to be Cheektowaga and Amherst any more," Schratz said. "We wanted to be one community."

Rath, who lives near Harlem, said she is excited to drive on the new road.

"I know that transportation improvement is the key to any neighborhood growth," added Amherst Supervisor Satish B. Mohan.

"This has changed the entire neighborhood," said Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz, adding that it also is a good example of intermunicipal cooperation.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com and mbecker@buffnews.com

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