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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    State DOT to ‘reassess’ controversial Route 82 roundabouts

    A rendering from the state Department of Transportation shows one of six roundabouts proposed as part of a major redesign of Route 82 in Norwich. As of Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, the state is reassessing the project.

    Norwich ― The state Department of Transportation will pull back a widely criticized plan to reconstruct a 1.3-mile stretch of Route 82-West Main Street with six roundabouts, a median divider and single traffic lanes in each direction.

    A statement by the DOT Friday said the agency remains “fully committed to moving forward with the safety improvements project on Route 82 in Norwich,” but will “reassess the project design” based on input from the public during a June 23 presentation.

    “CTDOT values community input and believes the safety and travel benefits intended through this project can be achieved while addressing the feedback that will allow us to have a viable project,” the DOT said in the statement.

    State Sen Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, whose district includes Norwich, issued a news release Friday “welcoming” a decision by DOT to reevaluate the controversial plan.”

    She cited several meetings she and state Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville — who also represents Norwich — have held with DOT project officials to discuss the project and concerns.

    “Representative Ryan and I have been working with the DOT for months now on this project, because we always believed, based on our discussions with local residents, that it was far too broad,” Osten said in a news release. “So, we're thrilled that the DOT is now re-evaluating it.”

    "Norwich City Council members asked Senator Osten and I to do what we could to communicate the concerns of the council and city residents to the DOT,” Ryan said in the news release, “And we did that. Now the project is being re-evaluated. That's a big win for Norwich and for local businesses."

    The $45 million, two-phase project received broad criticism locally, with “No 6 Roundabouts” signs joining election campaign signs in front of city homes and businesses.

    The $20 million first phase from Asylum to Dunham streets, with three planned roundabouts and the acquisition of five commercial properties, was slated to start construction in 2025.

    Collaborative effort

    Norwich City Council Democrats took credit for the move Friday morning, saying it came after several meetings led by Osten and Ryan, with the four-member majority Democratic council caucus, Democratic Council President Pro Tempore Joseph DeLucia said Friday.

    “This exemplifies the impact that collaborative political leaders can have when they offer reasonable input and bring more than complaints and threats to the table,” DeLucia wrote in a text message to The Day. “Our caucus also would like to thank the DOT and the engineers on this project for their willingness to hear our concerns and work with us to find reasonable solutions that everyone can live with and that make the road safer.”

    But Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom said he had been discussing the issue with Osten “for months” and had called the DOT commissioner’s office to express the city’s objections to the proposal.

    “She told them that the plan was too heavy-handed,” Nystrom said. “The outcome, the six roundabouts, the businesses lost, the way the project would have gone forward, was just too much.”

    Nystrom said he’ll ask whoever is elected to the state legislature in November to seek an economic impact study by the state to accompany any proposed revision to the Route 82 plan.

    Nystrom said DeLucia’s statement issued Friday morning was “absolutely devoid of reality,” and credited Osten for the DOT’s pause in the project.

    The project became political in September, when the DOT project team required a city resolution agreeing to accept maintenance control of the future sidewalks, roundabout centers and striping of the proposed 5-foot-wide proposed bicycle lanes.

    A second resolution asked the city to accept the conversion of the short, dead-end Crane Avenue from a private to a public street.

    On Sept. 6, the council passed the two resolutions with 4-3 votes, with the four Democrats in favor and Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom and two Republicans opposed.

    The day after the Sept. 6 vote, Nystrom and Republican Alderwoman Stacy Gould and Alderman Grant Neuendorf sent a letter to Democratic Alderman Swaranjt Singh Khalsa saying his vote in favor gave “the appearance of impropriety,” since the project would have called for the state to acquire one gas station on West Main Street. Khalsa owns Norwichtown Shell, about 4.2 miles away from the site on the opposite end of town.

    Khalsa asked for an advisory opinion from the Norwich Ethics Commission, which voted 4-0 on Oct. 19 that Khalsa’s vote was not a conflict of interest, since the City Council resolutions did not involve property acquisition of the gas station.

    The commission included a caveat that in the future, all city officials should recuse themselves in any votes that directly call for acquiring of property that could include a competing business to any business in which they have financial interest.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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