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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    Major construction improvements proposed for Route 85

    The Connecticut Department of Transportation has proposed changes to Route 85 in Salem and Montville that include widening the roads, a new roundabout and replacing two existing bridges.

    The state department conducted a virtual informational meeting this past week to show the public the preliminary designs and answer any questions. Members of DOT and Benesch, the project's prime engineering consultant, spoke throughout various portions of the presentation.

    Kevin Flemming, a DOT transportation planner, said the meeting was a way to gather public input as required by the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act.

    The $38 million proposed project is split into four separate sections and begins in Salem just south of the intersection of routes 82 and 85 and extends to just south of the intersection of routes 85 and 161 in Montville.

    Steven Drechsler, the project manager for Benesch, said the main purpose of the project is to improve traffic along all four project sections by increasing the road's shoulder width to a minimum of 5 feet and a maximum of 8 feet to allow drivers to bypass vehicles making turns. He said areas within the project limits that are not being improved have been improved through past projects.

    Drechsler said 80% of the money to pay for the $38 million project will come from federal funds and 20% will come from the state.  

    The first project section begins just south of the roundabout at routes 82 and 85 in Salem and extends a mile to Horse Pond Road. Jefferey Koerner, Benesch's lead highway engineer, said this section averaged 21 crashes from July 2018 through June 2021, with most occurring at the intersection between Woodland Drive and Forsyth Drive. Koerner said widening the road in this area would allow cars going south to bypass another car making a left turn.

    Other improvements to this section include improving sight lines and replacing the bridge over Fraser Brook so that it has enough room beneath for better flow of waters associated with major storms.

    The second section is located on Route 85 near the picnic area in Salem and ends just south of Valley Drive. Little will be done to this area apart from widening it to provide consistent lane and shoulder widths.

    Koerner said the third section runs from Fox Hollow Drive to Beckwith Road in Montville. In this area, the state is proposing to realign the two roadways at the intersection of Route 85, Salem Turnpike and Day Road.

    Showing pictures of the section's existing conditions, Koerner showed one image where a stream runs adjacent to the roadway. To widen the road at the location with Latimer Brook running parallel to the route, a segment of the channel is proposed to be realigned. Koerner said this will minimize impacts on the wetlands on both sides of the road.

    The bridge over Latimer Brook in the third section also is proposed to be replaced for the same reasons as the bridge over Fraser Brook. In order to maintain traffic during construction of these two bridges, Drechsler said the plan is to utilize a temporary bridge constructed east of the existing bridges and construct a temporary bypass road to access it. Koerner said the bridges, however, will not be constructed at the same time.

    Drechsler said the total project wetland impact covered 0.43 acre.

    Located north of Chesterfield Road and extending to the intersection of routes 85 and 161 in Montville, the fourth project section is the busiest. Koerner said it averaged a traffic count of 16,000 vehicles per day in 2019 and had 25 recorded crashes between July 2018 and June 2021.

    As a result, the project proposes to improve two intersections in this section. The first is where Chesterfield Road and Grassy Hill Road meet opposite each other at Route 85. As it is, Route 85 has a single lane north and a single lane south, with no turn lanes at this intersection. The proposed project will incorporate a left-turn lane on the southbound side of Route 85 onto Chesterfield Road, a left turn lane to go onto Grassy Hill Road, and an additional right lane on the northbound side of Route 85 to turn onto Chesterfield Road.

    The project also is relocating the Route 161 intersection from its present location to approximately 1,200 feet south to align opposite Deer Run, turning it into a single-lane roundabout. Koerner said there were 39 crashes in the corridor south of Route 161 between July 2018 and June 2021 with most around the intersection of routes 161 and 85.

    Koerner said Route 161 had to be relocated because a pond and historic site surround the present location, making it difficult to add turning lanes. He said the advantage of a roundabout is the drivers experience a short stop versus the more pronounced stop they would make at a traffic signal, improving traffic operations.

    Right of way impacts associated with the project include partial strip acquisitions for the widening of Route 85 and the realignment of Route 161; easements to slope; and temporary construction easements for the bridge replacements.

    Dennis MacDonald of DOT said impacted property owners would receive a letter of intent to acquire their land along with a property acquisition map. Negotiations then would take place until an agreement is reached. MacDonald said if an agreement cannot be reached, the state could use the power of eminent domain to get the property rights to keep construction plans on schedule. But if that were the case, he said the property owners would still get to negotiate the offer in court.

    Drechsler said construction is anticipated to begin in the summer of 2024 and is expected to be completed in the summer of 2026.

    The project arrives as others in the region have yet to finish. During a question-and-answer session after the presentation, someone asked if the Route 85 project shuts down any hope for the completion of construction on Route 11. Drechsler said improvements needed to Route 85 are independent of whether Route 11 is ever completed. He said the project on Route 85 would not preclude the completion of Route 11, should it be pursued in the future.

    To comment on any environmental concerns or ask questions about Project 85-146, the public has until March 30 to email the state Department of Transportation at DOTProject85-146@ct.gov or call (860) 944-1111.

    j.vazquez@theday.com

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