A roundabout way to fix Crash Alley
If Norwich city officials want to see the severity of crashes significantly decrease along the Route 82 commercial strip, and if they want to modernize the area to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, they need to get on board with a state plan for installing a series of roundabouts.
Lining the stretch of West Main Street are stores, offices, fast-food and other restaurants, one chockablock to the next. The four-lane road is so dangerous and accidents so common it has earned the moniker "Crash Alley." When the Connecticut Department of Transportation last discussed addressing the situation in 2020, it said the stretch of state road was averaging 10 significant crashes per year, about one quarter of them leading to leading to serious injuries.
The situation has not improved since.
Numerous intersections invite traffic back-ups and violent crashes. Vehicles must make left turns across two-lanes of oncoming traffic to enter businesses on the other side of the road.
As bad as it is for traffic, it is more intimidating for pedestrians, while anyone taking a bike along that road is risking her life. On average there are 15 bicycle and pedestrian accidents each year. The number would be higher, but bicyclists and pedestrians know to avoid Crash Alley.
The DOT's solution has remained consistent, a series of roundabouts. Local opposition has also been consistent.
The roundabout plan is hardly a perfect fix. There will still be accidents as drivers maneuver in and out of the traffic circles, but the collisions will be less violent — think fender-benders — and there should be fewer of them. Drivers would no longer have to cut across traffic, but instead continue to the next roundabout, use it to get to the other side of the road, then take a right turn to their destination.
Yes, the project will cause hardships. Disruption during construction will adversely impact some businesses. Additionally, several properties will need to be taken to accommodate the new traffic pattern. A few businesses will have to relocate. But state compensation will include relocation expenses. Perhaps the city could supplement relocation funds for displaced businesses so that they end up in a stronger position when the shuffling ends.
The latest DOT approach calls for installation of six roundabouts at busy intersections in two phases — three from the Asylum Street intersection to Dunham Street in phase one, three west of Dunham Street to the approaches to Interstate 395 in a second phase.
The redesign will convert the four-lane road to single lanes in both directions. A five-foot shoulder will accommodate bicyclists. Various other improvements will make it possible for pedestrians to safely cross in designated areas.
While local opposition has stalled the project before, the DOT at this point seems intent on making improvements. Therefore, it would be best for Norwich officials to cooperate with the transportation department to make the plan the best it can be and to minimize the disruptions as far as possible. That might mean one or two fewer roundabouts than now planned and timing the work to reduce interruptions during prime shopping times.
Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom has noted the water mains along the stretch of state highway, maintained by the city-owned Norwich Public Utilities, are a century old. Indeed, one main ruptured early in the morning this past Monday. Road reconstruction would be the ideal opportunity to install modern water mains, with the state and city working out cost responsibilities. It would make no sense to install a new road atop the ancient pipes, then tear it up every time a pipe breaks.
The transition will be difficult, but in the end the area would have a more appealing stretch of road, one with less accidents, and with a modernized water system serving it. And that will all be good for business.
Norwich will be better off when people talk about how bad "Crash Alley" used to be and how much the once controversial roundabouts improved it.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.