Groton neighbors say danger remains on road once slated for closure

Groton — Neighbors who live near Vergennes Court, a small street that leads to the Fort Hill neighborhood, say drivers speed down Fort Hill, ignoring cars waiting to exit the court and pedestrians trying to cross Route 1, and they'd like something done about it.

More than 500 people signed a petition opposing closure of Vergennes Court in March 2017, when the town considered that plan to improve traffic flow and safety. The Town Council voted to officially cancel the project last week, but neighbors say the road remains dangerous.

“If somebody stops for someone at the crosswalk, people behind them pull right around them,” said Beth Jara, who tells her children to walk to the nearby crosswalk at Claude Chester Elementary School. Drivers speed down Fort Hill Road toward Route 117, ignore the crosswalk and race past cars waiting to exit Vergennes Court, she said.

Kim McClellan's brother, 51-year-old Anthony McClellan, was killed as he walked in the crosswalk at Fort Hill Road and Vergennes Court in December 2011.

Still, McClellan said she's glad the plan to close Vergennes Court was canceled. It wouldn't have helped and would have hurt the neighborhood by cutting off a point of access for emergency vehicles, she said. "I have been a Groton resident for 47 years of my life. This road right here is a part of Poquonnock Bridge," she said.

McClellan does not own a car, like many in her neighborhood. She uses the road to walk to the library and to the market and pharmacy in the small strip mall across from Vergennes Court on Route 1.

When the road closure was first considered years ago, the town worked with the police department, analyzed accident data and found that the area had the highest accident rate in town, Public Works Director Gary Schneider told the council. The plan was to dead-end the court with a cul-de-sac, providing access for emergency vehicles and a walkway for pedestrians.

But neighbors vehemently opposed the project, saying it would fail to improve safety and cut off access to their neighborhood. Poquonnock Bridge fire Chief Joseph Winski also opposed the closure, saying it would limit firefighters' access to large water mains.

The state recently repainted crosswalks and traffic markings and the area has new crosswalk signs.  Each utility pole has a light, Schneider said. Karen Dole, who owns Bridge Market at the strip mall, said she reached out to the police department and Chief L.J. Fusaro sent a patrol officer to the area to monitor it earlier this winter. But police can't be there every day, Dole said.

The intersection needs a traffic light, crosswalk sign in the center of the road, blinking speedometer or some way to slow traffic, neighbors say.

“Everybody is in such a hurry," Dole said. "Until they get into a big accident or get a ticket, they're not going to change."

Sue Aguiar, who lives on Fort Hill Road, said people in Poquonnock Bridge believe their road was slated for closure and that speeding continues because drivers are indifferent to their neighborhood.

"It's Poquonnock Bridge and they don't care and it's wrong. That's it," she said.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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