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Norwich hopes for $500,000 grant to study downtown, waterfront traffic changes

Norwich — The city has applied for a $500,000 transportation study grant for downtown and the waterfront that will consider closing Chelsea Harbor Drive, converting Water Street to two-way traffic, expanding Howard T. Brown Memorial Park to allow safer operations of park functions and the boat ramp and improve pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

The City Council last week approved the application for a $500,000 grant through the state Office of Policy and Management to hire a traffic engineer consultant to determine whether the proposed waterfront changes are feasible based on traffic counts and available travel lanes.

The city’s $50,000 matching share for the grant would be done through staff time by the city planner, public works director and city engineer.

City officials hope to learn by September whether the grant will be approved. If successful, the study would include public meetings and recommendations. A final report would be presented at a public meeting after 12 to 16 months, according to a schedule included in the city's application.

The city last fall conducted a road safety audit that included several recommendations, including closing sections of some roadways and reconfiguring traffic patterns as long-term projects. The audit also recommended the city consider redesigning the Main Street-Franklin Street intersection, possibly including a roundabout.

The waterfront and the Franklin Street areas would be included in the transportation study, Public Works Director Ryan Thompson said. City officials from several departments have been examining ways to address some downtown traffic problems quickly and inexpensively. In June, Franklin Street was converted to two-way traffic as the first such project, Thompson said. The early success gave city officials involved a boost to continue the work.

“The study will put it all together in one comprehensive document,” Thompson said. “Making Franklin Street two-way was the proof of concept.”

The Franklin Street project cost less than $10,000 and has been well received, Thompson said, and there have been no accidents to date.

But other more costly projects, such as the closure of Chelsea Harbor Drive, conversion of Water Street and expansion of Brown Park, would require more detailed engineering studies, followed by design drawings and later construction funding. The current grant application would be the first phase of the project.

If the project is deemed feasible, the city would apply to OPM for design funding and later for construction funding. The roads involved also serve as portions of state routes 2 and 32.

City Planner Deanna Rhodes said expanding Brown Park would improve the value and function of the city waterfront. While city leaders have considered moving the boat launch out of the cramped and narrow park for safety reasons, Rhodes said a new consideration is that the boat ramp is an attraction that brings people to Norwich Harbor. She said if the boat ramp access and trailer parking area could be expanded, along with the rest of the park, safety for both groups would be improved.

The transportation study also would include ways to connect the Norwich Transportation Center across from the Marina at American Wharf to Brown Park and downtown for pedestrians and bicyclists. Bicycle and pedestrian traffic safety throughout downtown would be part of the study, Rhodes said.

“In order to improve access and functionality of the boat launch, the ramp and parking would need to be improved,” the grant application said. “By closing off Chelsea Harbor Drive to thru traffic, an expansion of the boat launch and park could be accomplished. In order to determine if this re-configuration of the downtown traffic is feasible, a study must be completed. If the city were to receive this grant, this project would be the first step in improving this area and increasing the use of this prominent feature of the city and the transportation center.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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