Opening of New London traffic circle set to mark end of construction traffic headaches
New London — A massive road rebuilding and roundabout construction project on Jefferson Avenue aimed at improving deteriorating pavement conditions and alleviating traffic snarls is expected to be completed by next month.
Director of Public Works Brian Sear said the impetus for the work, which has led to some frustration by drivers attempting to navigate alternating lanes and traffic back-up, was the “really horrible shape” of Jefferson Avenue before the reconstruction began.
“We were getting steady complaints about potholes, about drivers’ front ends being knocked out and the ineffective drainage there,” he said. “At the intersection where Jefferson splits off to Chester Street and Jefferson ‘south,’ there was a three-way light that was really not functional. And that led to accidents and a lot of back-up.”
The $3.9 million state-funded project, paid with Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program funds administered through the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, broke ground in October.
Over the summer, construction crews essentially dug up and rebuilt roughly 2,500 square feet of Jefferson Avenue with improved drainage and began work on a “three-legged” roundabout, with new sidewalks, crosswalks, lighting and curbing, set to open the first week of September.
“The goal is to keep traffic moving, and our experiences with these kinds of roundabouts, like down at the Fort Trumbull area, have been good,” Sear said.
Sear admits the project, like any large-scale endeavor of its kind, has led to traffic coordination challenges, especially during the school year, when buses carrying magnet students from New London and beyond needed access to the nearby high school.
“One delay can have a ripple effect, and there were times when we had to have alternating traffic flow,” he said, referring to when only one lane of a two-lane road is opened to allow for construction work. “Our goal was to try and keep traffic open, to not totally close the road for two months and require drivers to detour for miles around the work.”
He said two dedicated traffic control staff were assigned to work the project, but delays were inevitable, especially when large trucks needed to be waved through. He said a six-week span of work prohibited traffic from turning onto Jefferson Avenue from Broad Street and was instead rerouted to Colman Street.
On Monday, the under-construction traffic circle was already operating as a roundabout, albeit an unpaved one with several temporary stop signs that will be replaced with yield signs.
Traffic moved slowly, but steadily, as vehicles inched around an unfinished circular island set to be decorated with a replica sail. A red sign on Jefferson Avenue still instructed non-resident travelers to use Colman Street.
The imminent completion of the road work elated Miguel Gautier, the New London School District’s director of facilities, who helped coordinate the fleet of school buses driving through the construction site.
“It was challenging, but we worked with public works planning ahead and had weekly progress meetings,” he said. “The priority at the start was access for buses, fire trucks and police vehicles.”
Gautier said the biggest issues revolved around private vehicles, namely longer wait times for parents dropping off and picking up students during the school year.
“It’s a three-way intersection there, so there was some balling-up of traffic, especially since we had a high school construction project also going on,” he said. “I think we managed it pretty well, but it’ll be really good to have this all done before school starts.”
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