Norwich receives $400,000 grant to redesign Franklin Square

Norwich — City officials might not like the state’s idea of installing several roundabouts along Route 82-West Main Street, but city officials were pleased to learn they have received a $400,000 grant to design a roundabout at Franklin Square that would allow two-way traffic in all directions at the key downtown junction.

The State Bond Commission approved funding for the Community Connectivity Program grant at its Dec. 11 meeting, “so your application for the Community Connectivity Grant Program has been approved,” said a Jan. 18 letter from state Department of Transportation Assistant Planning Director Colleen A. Kissane to Mayor Peter Nystrom.

The project calls for eliminating the confusing current traffic arrangement, which has vehicles entering Franklin Street heading north from Main Street along two one-way strips, one from the east and the other from the west.

But southbound traffic on Franklin — opened to two-way traffic in May 2017 — must stop and turn right onto Bath Street and wind its way back to Main Street along lower Broadway.

In between the roadways is a mostly paved traffic island with a flagpole and space to place a Christmas tree in December and a parade viewing stand for the Winter Festival and St. Patrick’s Day parades.

The city’s grant application calls for retaining the island, with improvements for pedestrian safety, with shorter street crossings in better locations.

“The new configuration will eliminate some of the large expanses of pavement and create public spaces for people to congregate and spend time in the downtown area,” the grant application stated.

Public Works Director Ryan Thompson said the Christmas tree still will be placed in the square, and parades still will cross through the intersection.

The project design and construction phases will be put out to bid. Thompson estimated construction could be done in the spring of 2020 at the earliest.

Thompson said the grant will cover the entire design and construction cost of the project, estimated at $350,000, plus contingency. City staff, including Thompson, City Planner Deanna Rhodes and City Engineer Patrick McLaughlin, along with public works crews for some aspects, will provide the city’s in-kind contribution in labor.

“We’re excited about it,” Nystrom, a staunch opponent of the state’s proposed Route 82 roundabouts, said. “We’re looking at it as a way to enhance the traffic pattern without spending a ton of money. A roundabout in that area would help the traffic flow.”

Robert Mills, president of the Norwich Community Development Corp. at 66 Franklin St., also welcomed the prospect of improved traffic flow in the heart of the city.

“I’m thrilled,” Mills said. “I’m hoping it’s the first of a series of transportation fixes that will return downtown into a market center.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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