New Route 82 proposal still calls for roundabouts and median dividers

Norwich — Residents here may feel a sense of déjà vu after hearing the state’s latest proposal to address safety concerns along the busy Route 82 commercial strip, also known as “Crash Alley.”

At a meeting Monday night, the state Department of Transportation unveiled its latest proposal for a reconstruction project along Route 82, and although it's still in the preliminary stages — with only about 5 percent of design completed — the proposal is similar to a controversial plan proposed three years ago.

Similar to the 2015 plan, the new proposal calls for six roundabouts throughout the Route 82 strip and a wide median divider along most of the stretch to prevent all left-hand turns. The project would also require the acquisition of some properties along the strip, but at this point DOT is not yet sure how many. No cost estimate is yet available.  

The new proposal represents the most recent effort in a saga that spans more than a decade.

Research done by DOT found that this portion of Route 82 averages 117 crashes with 26 injuries a year. Debate over how to address Route 82 safety concerns ranges as far back as 2005 when the state’s original concept suggested widening Route 82 to five lanes. 

That plan was shot down because it was thought to not really address the safety concerns, especially given the project's cost would have been more than $30 million. 

The 2015 proposal, which the City Council supported, called for a $42 million reconstruction project featuring six roundabouts that would have replaced lights at key intersections. It would have run from just west of the New London Turnpike intersection to the intersection of Mechanic and Asylum streets.

That project would also have featured a 6-inch-high median divider to prevent all left-hand turns along most of the stretch, and involved the reconstruction of sidewalks to reduce steep driveway ramps leading into businesses. 

Just a year later, though, after opposition from business owners and residents who argued the project would slow traffic to a crawl and have a detrimental impact on businesses, the City Council approved a resolution requesting that DOT consider eliminating the roundabouts in the project. That resolution also asked DOT to hold informational meetings to take public comment on the project, as well as provide project updates to the City Council Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee. 

Since that time, the DOT said its has conducted a ground survey, researched traffic volumes, conducted traffic modeling and capacity analysis, and reached out to more stakeholders to discuss the project's impact. However, the preliminary proposal still looks very similar to the one from a few years ago. 

The roundabouts remain, as does the median, and once again the project would be done in two phases. Phase one would span from Asylum Street, heading west, to Pine Street, and phase two would run from Pine to Salem Plaza. Construction would take three to four years with phase one beginning in 2023 and phase two occurring in 2025.

This version of the project would also feature phase one being reduced to one lane in each direction. 

The new City Council, much of whose members weren't seated during the previous proposal, had many questions regarding the presentation, with several expressing concerns about the impact on businesses and how crosswalks would operate at the roundabouts in the absence of traffic lights. 

Ultimately, the project still has a long way to go, a point reiterated on multiple occasions by the DOT representatives at the meeting. And design work is still in its very early stages. 

Next steps will include more discussions with stakeholders and the council's public works subcommittee, as well as continual developmental of the design work and eventually more informational meetings.

c.clark@theday.com

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