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    Monday, August 15, 2022

    DOT explains proposed Route 82 roundabouts to skeptical Norwich residents

    State Department of Transportation officials gave a public information meeting about the proposed roundabouts project on Route 82 in Norwich on Thursday, June 23, 2022, in the Kelly Middle School auditorium. Phase 1, top image, would run from Banas Court to Fairmount Street, with utility work scheduled to start in late summer 2024 and road work in 2025. Phase 2, bottom, would follow, running from Salem Plaza, 77 Salem Turnpike, to Banas Court.

    Norwich — The first phase of a planned Route 82 reconstruction would create three roundabouts from the Asylum Street intersection to Dunham Street and install a median divider along West Main Street, with construction slated to start in 2025.

    A second phase and three more roundabouts are planned for construction in 2026, state Department of Transportation project officials told about 50 Norwich residents, city leaders and business owners at an informational meeting Thursday in the Kelly Middle School auditorium. The DOT first proposed the plan in 2015 and has made few changes since then, despite complaints from city leaders and business owners who face losing their buildings to eminent domain takings to make way for the roadway changes.

    Businesses again voiced their opposition Thursday. Mark Grader, owner of Grader Jewelers, what he called a three-generation family business at 561 W. Main St., sent a long letter to Mayor Peter Nystrom hours before Thursday’s DOT informational meeting on the project. He also read it aloud at the meeting.

    “I am opposed to the taking of my building by eminent domain for the purpose of the roundabout at the intersection of Dunham Street and Route 82,” Grader said. “I believe that the roundabout project is excessive both monetarily and in overall concept. I do not believe that a roundabout at the Dunham Street area is needed.”

    DOT officials said Phase 1 is estimated to cost $20 million, and Phase 2 is pegged at $25 million.

    Phase 1 would require the taking of five businesses, including three at the Asylum Street intersection. Four more business closures are anticipated in Phase 2.

    Steven Cohen, owner of property at 684 W. Main St. — where he tore down a long-vacant building — at the New London Turnpike intersection, a property slated for acquisition, questioned several aspects of the project, including whether the DOT considered adding left-turn lanes at each red light. DOT officials responded that the left signals would not be adequate.

    Cohen also asked the DOT to try doing Phase 1 and then waiting 15 to 20 years to see how it works before trying Phase 2.

    Dennis McDonald, property agent in the DOT Rights-of-Way unit, said negotiations would take place with property owners, with financial compensation offers made before eminent domain proceedings. He said business compensation would include relocation costs.

    Paul Agranovitch, owner of Norwich Universal Discount Liquors, called the roundabouts "the nuclear option" to fix the safety issues on Route 82 and asked officials to consider left-turn lanes.

    Residents asked questions about traffic diverted on side streets, the history of plans to improve the roadway and how snow plowing would be done. One questioned traffic crash data cited by DOT officials.

    Resident Shiela Hayes asked why DOT did not move utilities underground, calling it a safety investment. But DOT officials said it would be cost prohibitive, at $18 million for the entire length of the project, verses $850,000 to relocate utility poles and lines as necessary.

    DOT officials led off Thursday’s meeting with a 50-minute presentation on the project, with a five-person presentation team, including Mark Lenters, an engineer with the planning and engineering firm Kimley-Horn, which has offices throughout the country, a national roundabouts expert. DOT Project Manager Scott Bushee said Lenters has certified that Route 82 is suitable for the series of roundabouts proposed.

    Lenters said the proposed project is not a new concept, with the spacing of roundabouts depending on existing conditions and intersections.

    Bushee said Phase 1 is at the 30% design point, while Phase 2 is remains in a conceptual design stage.

    Bushee described current problems with the busy Route 82 strip, nicknamed “Crash Alley.” He described multiple unsignaled business driveways, some businesses with more than one curb cut. In one section, seven traffic lights are spaced closely together.

    Videos projected on a large screen showed vehicles trying to turn out of driveways having difficult times getting “a gap” in traffic. Left-turning drivers must have gaps in three lanes to get out. He pointed out one truck waiting at a green light to turn left. Finally, the driver gave up and turned when the light turned red.

    “Everybody has a point of tolerance, when they give up and start taking gaps they wouldn’t otherwise take,” Bushee said.

    He said the road has an average of 100 crashes per year, 40 with injuries. Bushee said 60% of the crashes occur at the traffic signals. There also are an average of 15 bicycle and pedestrian crashes.

    “Those are your friends, your neighbors,” Bushee said. “We need a safety improvement.”

    He described the plan to eliminate left turns with a median divider. The roadway would be reduced from four to two lanes, what DOT presenters called “a road diet.” By eliminating frequent traffic lights, a person’s travel time through the improved section is expected to be cut by 25%. Drivers wanting to turn left would drive to the next roundabout and make a complete circle to get to the opposite lane to turn right into the business or street.

    Pedestrians would have all new sidewalks, and cyclists would have a 5-foot shoulder.

    Michael Laurice, project engineer, described Phase 1 as having three single-lane roundabouts and one temporary red light at the Dunham Street intersection. The roundabouts would have an inner circle area to accommodate large trucks, buses and firetrucks. Construction of Phase 1 is planned to start in spring of 2025 and be completed in fall of 2026. Phase 2 would begin in 2027.

    Laurice reviewed each proposed roundabout, which would require relocation of some bus shelters and entrances. At the Dunham Street in Phase 1, a red light would remain but with a U-turn lane. The intersection would be converted into a true roundabout in Phase 2, Laurice said.

    Bushee said in repeated meetings with Norwich officials over the years, local representatives asked for ways to reduce traffic disruptions during construction. He said ways to do that include moving utilities early in the project, working on one intersection at a time, getting it mostly completed before tearing up the next portion.

    DOT will appoint a community-business liaison to receive feedback from business owners and residents and to alert businesses when construction is expected to reach that business. City officials have asked to consider as much night work as possible. Bushee called night work “a delicate balance” because there are residents in the area.

    Milling, paving, concrete pouring and curb work could be done at night.

    Road closures on the side streets at the Route 82 intersections for two weeks at a time would help speed up the project, with traffic rerouted along the grid network of other side streets during the temporary closures.

    Bushee said a separate public information meeting will be held in advance of the second phase.

    c.bessette@theday.com

    State Department of Transportation officials gave a public information meeting about the proposed roundabouts project on Route 82 in Norwich on Thursday, June 23, 2022, in the Kelly Middle School auditorium. Phase 1 would run from Banas Court to Fairmount Street, with utility work scheduled to start in late summer 2024 and road work in 2025. Phase 2 would follow, running from Salem Plaza, 77 Salem Turnpike, to Banas Court.

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