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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Norwich traffic study aims to recapture urban feel of downtown streets

    Daniel Amutz, left, and Joseph Balskus, right, engineers with VHB Engineers, discuss proposed major traffic pattern changes for downtown Norwich and the city waterfront on Wednesday, June 5, 2024 during a public forum at Norwich City Hall. Claire Bessette/The Day.
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    Norwich ― Dramatic changes proposed to downtown and waterfront streets would convert the current multi-lane speedways with giant overhead highway signs into walkable city streets, project planners told residents Wednesday.

    More than 30 people examined maps showing three proposed options for the Norwich waterfront, along with accompanying changes to streets that connect the waterfront to downtown and beyond.

    James Butler, senior adviser for the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, said the project is in the concept stage, with more meetings with technical advisers, a July 15 presentation to the City Council and a “pitch” for funding to state Department of Transportation still to come.

    Butler estimated this project, called a downtown mobility study, is at the stage where the state’s controversial Route 82 reconstruction project — with four roundabouts and a median divider — was about four years ago. The DOT funded the study.

    Joseph Balskus and Daniel Amutz of VHB Engineers summarized the plans for participants at Wednesday’s forum, which included several city officials.

    One option would convert the westbound three-lane, one-way bridge to West Main Street into the Bridge of Roses, a pedestrian and bicycle way, with rose bushes and outdoor event space. The three-lane eastbound bridge to Washington Square would be converted to two-way traffic.

    Some residents Wednesday expressed skepticism that the views from the proposed pedestrian bridge would be of the city sewage treatment plant on one side and the towering three-story parking garage on the other side. Others questioned the cost to the city if the state turned over ownership and maintenance responsibility of the bridge to the city.

    “The city of Norwich is a distressed community,” resident Joanne Philbrick said. “We don’t have any money here. We don’t have any money for anything.”

    An alternative suggested by city Police Chief Patrick Daley would switch the plan, converting the westbound bridge into two-way traffic and closing the inbound bridge just past the Marina at American Wharf and Falls Avenue, with the bridge becoming a pedestrian and bicycle way.

    Mayor Peter Nystrom expressed a concern about the second option that it would not increase access to key waterfront development, the marina and Thayer’s Marine businesses and the Norwich Transportation Center.

    The third option would make both bridges two way, but with improved sidewalks and bicycle lanes. That plan calls for three roundabouts, two on Washington Street at each bridge intersection, and one to join the roads on West Main Street.

    All three options include roundabouts, one to the west of the two bridges on West Main Street and either one or two on Washington Street east of the bridges.

    The project study area stretched into downtown to Main Street and Boswell Avenue. Chelsea Harbor Drive, now a three-lane one way heading eastbound, would be converted into a two-way local access to the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park at Norwich Harbor. Water Street, now a westbound three-lane one way, would be converted to two way, with improved sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

    More changes are proposed for the intersection with the worst congestion, the Viaduct to Main, East Main and North Main streets. VHB Engineers proposed widening the Viaduct to create a right-turning lane heading onto East Main-Route 2 East. That route heads toward the Foxwoods Resort Casino, Mohegan Sun Casino and toward the Westerly beaches.

    Another problem spot is a quirky intersection at Boswell Avenue and Franklin Streets, where a blinking traffic light and multiple roads converging, could be improved with a four-way stop and an improved median island, VHB officials said.

    Amutz said the lower-cost changes with less infrastructure disruptions, such as the Boswell Avenue and Viaduct changes, could be done quicker, while major funding is sought for the bigger segments of the plan.

    A recording of Wednesday’s forum will be posted on the Chelsea Harbor/Downtown Norwich Mobility Study page on the Council of Governments website at https://seccog.org, where maps and project overviews are posted.

    Public comment will be accepted through June 21 by emailing Butler at jbutler@seccog.org.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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