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    Monday, August 08, 2022

    Norwich business owners question proposed Route 82 roundabouts

    Concept rendering from State of Connecticut Department of Transportation Rt. 82 safety improvement project proposal shows the proposed roundabout for the intersection of West Main St. and Asylum Ave.

    Norwich — Proposed roundabouts on Route 82 would improve traffic flow, reduce crashes, and make the 1 1/4-mile strip more inviting to customers of the many businesses, but some businesses would be displaced and others would see their properties reduced by eminent domain takings, according to testimony at a public hearing Monday night.   

    Two longtime business owners said their buildings would be taken for the project.  

    David McDowell, owner of Sign Professionals at the corner of Asylum Street and Route 82, said the 30 years he and his business partner have spent building the business would be wiped out. McDowell said he couldn’t afford to pay relocation costs and doubts he could find a location as good as the busy corner.

    “This is it. This is what I spent my entire life building,” McDowell said. He said he would not be able to recoup the loss of his building, relocation costs and establishing a new site. He said that while the state Department of Transportation would pay fair market value for the building and reimburse him for relocation costs, it would not cover the upfront costs he would incur with moving.

    “We will lose our business due to the current plan of widening the road,” Peter Grader, owner of Grader Jewelers at 561 W. Main St. “It is simply a very sad day after some 50 years of coming to Norwich and building a business to see it all go down the tube.”

    The comments were made after officials from the state Department of Transportation gave an hour-long presentation to the City Council and about 40 members of the public on the plan to reconstruct Route 82-West Main Street and a portion of Salem Turnpike with six roundabouts and a median divider to prevent left turns.

    The median divider would allow pedestrians a chance to cross at crosswalks halfway with a stopping point in the center. The segment of West Main Street from Asylum Street to Pine Street would be reduced to one lane in each direction, with room for bicycle lanes at the sides.

    DOT Project Manager Scott Bushee presented videos depicting common problems along the current four-lane commercial strip, nicknamed “Crash Alley.” One showed a pedestrian causing cars to brake suddenly as she crossed in front of ShopRite. Two more images showed the line of cars stopped in the left lane behind a car trying to turn left into a driveway. Some cars attempted to veer into the right lane to go around the car, as other travelers were in that lane.

    The plan calls for two phases of construction, with the first three roundabouts at the eastern edge of the strip from Asylum Street to Pine Street, to be done first, starting in 2024. The second phase, from Pine Street to just past the busy New London Turnpike intersection, would be done in 2026.

    Bushee and national roundabouts traffic expert Mark Lenters showed still photos and videos of roundabout projects throughout the country, from Vail, Colo., to a “string of pearls” roundabout corridor along Route 41 in Florida and another on Route 41 in Wisconsin.

    Bushee said the conditions on Route 82 in Norwich are unsustainable. The strip has an average of 117 crashes per year, with 26 having serious injuries. He said DOT officials years ago considered a design that would have left-turn lanes in the center but rejected that plan as insufficient to address the multitude of traffic safety problems. For example a driver wanting to turn left out of a business would have to wait for clear passage in four lanes instead of the current three lanes — the two lanes going in the opposite direction and the left lane in the direction the car attempting to enter.

    But business owners at the meeting objected to both the anticipated disruptions during construction and the taking of several entire properties and pieces of many more properties along the entire route.

    Michael Rauh, president of Chelsea Groton Bank, objected that the DOT did not consider the four parking spaces the bank branch at 444 W. Main St. would lose as “a significant” loss. Rauh said that would amount to 25% of the customer parking at the site. Rauh said other businesses to be displaced entirely in the project are Chelsea Groton customers and said the DOT seemed “dismissive” of the impact of the losses.

    “I don’t think we as a community should be taking the relocation of nine businesses lightly,” Rauh said to applause from the audience. “I think you’re diminishing the impact of all of us along this corridor over this four-year period.”

    According to the map shown during a slide presentation, buildings slated for taking include the former Strange Brew location, which houses a dance studio, Wendy’s, a Sunoco gas station, Sign Professionals and Grader Jewelers.

    Dennis McDonald, of the DOT Right of Way office, said the agency does have relocation funds for displaced businesses, including assistance in finding new locations, “re-establishment costs” and moving costs. McDonald said while it is a reimbursement program, the state will pay moving companies directly as an upfront cost.

    Mayor Peter Nystrom said after the presentation that he will compile comments, suggestions and questions from residents and business owners and submit them to the DOT project engineers. Comments and questions can be sent to mayorsoffice@cityofnorwich.org.

    c.bessette@theday.com

    State of Connecticut Department of Transportation Rt. 82 safety improvement project proposal showing the proposed roundabouts along West Main St., from (left to right) Osgood st. to Asylum Ave. (top), and (left to right) New London Turnpike to Dunham (bottom).

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