Norwich General Assembly candidates weigh in on Route 82 roundabouts
Norwich ― Route 82-West Main Street runs through the center of the 46th state House of Representatives district, and the two candidates vying for the seat both said they recognize the need to improve safety along the road called “Crash Alley.”
But their views differ on the state project that would install six roundabouts to improve safety.
Democratic Norwich Alderman Derell Wilson and Republican Norwich businessman Robert Bell are running for the district seat being vacated by 10-year incumbent Democrat Emmett Riley. The district covers the southern and urban sections of Norwich, with Route 82 bisecting the western half of the district.
The DOT has proposed reconstructing a 1.3-mile stretch of the four-lane commercial strip with six roundabouts, a median divider to prevent left turns and reducing traffic to one lane in each direction with a 5-foot-wide bicycle lane. Sidewalks on both sides would be rebuilt to be more level, eliminating the current steep slopes into business driveways.
Bell issued a campaign statement saying he understands the need for “traffic-calming measures” along the four-lane commercial strip but urged the City Council and the state to reconsider the current plan, saying it would “directly jeopardize” several multi-generational businesses and threaten many others with traffic disruptions.
“Yes, it is important to prioritize safety along this high-traffic corridor, but no number of roundabouts is going to completely modify human behavior,” Bell wrote in a statement. “I ask the DOT and City Council to take a moment, pause, and amend the current plan to minimize the consequences to Norwich’s business community.”
Wilson was one of four City Council Democrats who voted in favor of two resolutions Sept. 6 that accepted city maintenance of the sidewalks, bicycle lanes and conversion of the short, private road, Crane Avenue, into a public road. The approvals, by 4-3 votes, with all three council Republicans voting against, allowed the DOT to proceed with advanced design work.
“I voted for the project, because saving lives is important,” Wilson said Monday. “I want to emphasize that changes to the project are an important piece that we are going to encourage.”
Wilson said authorizing design work to continue does not mean he and other aldermen will not pursue alterations to the plan. Council Republicans have called the plan excessive, with six roundabouts in just 1.3 miles and said construction disruptions would threaten every business along the way.
Wilson said if he is elected as state representative, he would insist that the DOT sets aside money to compensate businesses in the corridor impacted by the construction.
Bell said the business owners and residents’ opposition to the project should be heeded.
“If I am elected in November,” Bell said, “I am committed to ensuring that our voices are heard by relevant commissioners and at the Capitol with appropriate actions taken.”