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State DOT to provide updates on six planned Route 82 roundabouts in Norwich

Norwich — After two years of engineering and honing plans for the safety-minded reconstruction of Route 82 in Norwich — a major project the mayor says will displace or close several businesses — state transportation officials will present the updated plans and schedules to the public.

The City Council scheduled the public informational meeting for 7 p.m. June 23 in the Kelly Middle School auditorium. Plans for the proposed project include adding six roundabouts and a raised median divider, removing seven traffic lights and other changes from the area of Salem Plaza, 77 Salem Turnpike, to the intersection with Fairmount Street approaching downtown.

State Department of Transportation officials initially proposed an online-only public informational meeting, Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said, but he insisted that the state project team meet directly with residents and business owners who will be most affected by the major reconstruction on the busy commercial strip.

Nystrom estimated about a dozen city businesses will be displaced or lost by the construction, which he called “unacceptable.” Nystrom, Norwich Community Development Corp. President Kevin Brown and Old Tymes Restaurant owner Rodney Green participated in an online meeting with DOT officials on May 17 to discuss the updated plans.

The plan calls for placing roundabouts at the intersections of New London Turnpike, Norman Road, Dunham Street, Osgood Street, Mount Pleasant Street and Asylum/Mechanic streets.

DOT spokeswoman Shannon King said in an email summarizing the project that the planned “operation and safety improvements” on Route 82 are scheduled for two phases, with Phase 1 running from Banas Court adjacent to the Shop Rite/TJ Maxx shopping plaza, to Fairmount Street just east of the Asylum Street junction.

The DOT anticipates the need to acquire up to five properties for the construction, she wrote.

The existing two lanes of traffic in each direction will be reduced to one lane in each direction, “due to the efficiency of the roundabouts and elimination of left turns,” King wrote.

Utility work for Phase 1 is planned to begin in late summer of 2024, King wrote, with roadway work to start in spring 2025 and the project to be completed during the 2026 construction season.

“Some night work is planned to minimize daytime traffic disruption,” she wrote.

Phase 2 will run from Banas Court to Salem Plaza starting in 2026.

King said the latest cost projections put Phase 1 at $20 million and Phase 2 at $25 million, up from the combined $41 million projection given during a public informational meeting in March 2020.

The DOT first proposed the massive project in 2015 to address the hazards on the four-lane strip dubbed “Crash Alley” for the frequent vehicle crashes, many caused by left turns crossing two lanes of speeding traffic. With the six roundabouts and median dividers, traffic would not be allowed to turn left into side streets or the many business driveways. Instead, vehicles would travel to the next roundabout, circle around it and turn right into the business.

King wrote in her email project summary that as of the summer of 2021, the DOT had 24 roundabouts either planned or completed statewide.

“Recognized as one of the most effective ways to reduce intersection crashes and fatalities, roundabouts promote a continuous flow of traffic, which reduces delays, congestion and the harmful emissions produced from vehicles idling and accelerating at intersections with stop signs and traffic signals,” King wrote. “Roundabouts have also been shown to reduce severe crashes by 81% in Connecticut.”

The project has received mixed reactions locally over the years, first winning City Council endorsement in 2016 before the next council asked the state to scrap the plan in spring of 2017, calling it excessive to fix the traffic hazards.

Business owners feared years of construction disruptions, and several businesses — some in their locations for decades — would lose their buildings altogether to make way for the roundabouts.

Nystrom said if the project comes to fruition, NCDC will work with displaced businesses “or say goodbye to them.” He also objected that there is no provision to compensate the city for lost tax revenues from the buildings taken and destroyed. He will seek support for new legislation in the General Assembly to compensate cities and towns subjected to state eminent domain takings.

City officials will ask DOT project officials to do as much night work as possible to reduce business and traffic disruptions. Nystrom also asked DOT officials last week to consider moving overhead utility lines underground rather than move them along the entire route.

c.bessette@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version adds information on the latest cost estimates for the project.

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