Norwich City Council allows DOT to continue designing controversial Route 82 roundabouts
Norwich ― Despite strong opposition voiced by residents and business owners, the City Council Tuesday night voted 4-3 along party lines ― Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed ― to allow state transportation engineers to continue designing the controversial plan to reconstruct Route 82 with six roundabouts.
The split council approved two resolutions that drew the ire of residents and business owners along the West Main Street strip. Speakers pleaded with the City Council and state Department of Transportation officials at Tuesday’s meeting to scrap the plan.
About 50 people attended the meeting, and all but one of the 17 speakers opposed the project. Several speakers offered alternatives, including lower speed limits, a median divider with U-turn lanes at certain traffic lights, better police enforcement and fixing the steep slopes at driveways that require cars to slow to a crawl while turning to avoid scraping the bottom of their cars.
The project is divided into two phases to create six roundabouts from Asylum Street to New London Turnpike, install a median divider to prevent left turns and eliminate seven traffic lights.
Tuesday’s discussion and council votes pertained to Phase 1, which calls for three single-lane roundabouts and one temporary red light at the Dunham Street intersection. The road would have a single lane of traffic in each direction with a 5-foot-wide bicycle lane each way. 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.
Resolutions approved by the council Tuesday call for the city to agree to take on maintenance and care of the new sidewalks, one bus shelter, landscaping at the roundabouts and painted stripes for the bicycle lanes. The city also would pay for the electricity for the lighting and maintain the lights.
The second resolution, also approved 4-3, calls for short Crane Avenue, a private road between Westgate Plaza and Goldblatt Bokoff LLC accounting office, to become a city street once the project is completed. A roundabout is planned at the site, where Osgood Road intersects Route 82.
Approval of the resolutions allows the Department of Transportation to continue designs and begin property acquisition negotiations with owners.
Several business owners slated to lose all or part of their properties to the project railed against it, anticipating any offers from the state would not adequately compensate them for decades of efforts to build up their businesses and devotion to their livelihoods.
David McDowell, owner of Sign Professionals at the corner of Asylum and West Main streets, said he has invested 30 years of effort and money into his business and questioned how DOT could compensate him for that.
“The state will pay fair market value, however they will not tell me what that is; that is until you sign off on this project,” McDowell said. “I don’t have a clue. What is that number? I don’t want to leave my building. I don’t want to leave Norwich and I certainly don’t want a business I have given my life to build to be out of business.”
He said the state puts “no value” in its calculation of fair market value on the sacrifices, extra work on nights and weekends to build “a great business.”
McDowell countered comments by Democratic City Council Pro Tempore Joseph DeLucia last week that displaced businesses could relocate to other vacant properties on West Main Street. McDowell said any such move would cost way more than his current location.
Mark Grader, owner of Grader Jewelers at 561 W. Main St. across from Dunham Street, where a roundabout is planned, called the proposed six roundabouts “totally excessive,” and agreed with Mayor Peter Nystrom that the city was being used as a guinea pig for an experiment, testing roundabouts for the busy strip. Grader likened it to the New London plan of the early 1970s to turn State Street into pedestrian Captain’s Walk.
“My building was built to my parents’ specific design plans,” Grader said. “It was a culmination of 60 years of doing business in Norwich. That’s six-zero. This is a slap in the face. It is our legacy. Pardon the pun, our crown jewel.”
During council discussion, Nystrom and the two Republican aldermen repeatedly said the project is excessive and the taking of businesses and disruption to others during construction would be too costly for the city.
Democrats repeatedly used the strip’s nickname, “Crash Alley,” and said the council has a responsibility to improve the safety of the strip. DOT officials said the stretch has an average of 100 vehicle crashes per year, 40 with injuries. There are an average of 15 bicycle or pedestrian crashes.
Democratic aldermen DeLucia, Tracey Burto and Swaranjit Singh Khalsa all said they had been rear-ended on the street. DeLucia said both he and his daughter, who was in the car, continue to have painful lingering effects years later. Mayor Nystrom said his son had been rear-ended as well.
The Democrats said they do empathize with the business owners. They called on Norwich Community Development Corp. President Kevin Brown to work with business owners to minimize impacts and assist with relocation where necessary.
“I drive that road every single day,” DeLucia said. “And almost as often as I drive that road, there is at least a near miss if not an accident. Up and down that road, at least once a day. The word is criminal. It is critical that we do something about this road.”