The City Council Monday reversed its stance taken a year ago that supported the state’s proposed $42 million reconstruction of Route 82 with a median divider and six roundabouts and now is asking the state to reconsider the project.
After hearing from several business owners along the Route 82 corridor, the council voted 5-2 to approve a resolution asking the state Department of Transportation to consider eliminating roundabouts in the project. The resolution also asks the DOT to provide updates on the project to the City Council Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee and to hold informational meetings to take public comments on the project.
The DOT proposed the major redesign of Route 82 – dubbed “Crash Alley” for its frequent accidents – in August 2015. According to a statewide database maintained by the University of Connecticut, there have been 282 crashes involving 557 vehicles and 801 people on the West Main Street portion of the road from January 2015 through early June this year.
The project would run from just west of the busy New London Turnpike intersection to the intersection with Asylum and Mechanic streets. Six roundabouts would replace traffic signals at key intersections, the largest one at New London Turnpike, and a 6-inch high median divider would prevent all left-hand turns along most of the stretch.
Sidewalks would be reconstructed to reduce steep driveway ramps into businesses, but pedestrians would be directed to crosswalks in the roundabouts to cross the street. Beyond the reconstruction area, center left-turn lanes would be created. Surrey Lane would be cut off from Route 82, forcing traffic from side streets to New London Turnpike to reach Route 82.
Attorney William Sweeney, representing Marcus Plaza – which houses ShopRite Supermarket, TJMaxx and several smaller stores – said the DOT project “will absolutely have a detrimental effect on the businesses” on Route 82. Sweeney said protracted construction would hurt businesses for years, and would slow traffic “to a crawl” during peak business hours.
ShopRite owner Ken Capano said the council should ask DOT “just stop the project.” He said he has several competitors in the immediate area, and during construction, his business would be devastated.
Paul Agranovitch, owner of Universal Discount Package Store, said the council should suggest alternatives, such as center left turn lanes and enforcement cameras atop traffic lights, and city police should patrol the road in unmarked police cars.
City Council President Pro Tempore Peter Nystrom, a mayoral candidate, led the effort to reconsider the project Monday. Nystrom, who voted against the endorsement in March 2016, met with business leaders and expressed concern that a protracted construction period would permanently harm businesses that have struggled to survive through the recession.
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said she agreed with the council resolution and offered to work with the City Council to advocate that the project be changed in scope and size.
Will Britnell, DOT principal engineer, said earlier Monday that he was unaware of the pending council request. He said engineers are starting to lay out preliminary design for the project. The agency plans to hold a public informational meeting this year.
Britnell said that schedule was discussed a year ago when the City Council adopted the first resolution.
He said DOT officials have been in communication with city leaders about the project.
“We’re happy to meet with anybody,” he said.
By Claire Bessette, The Day staff writer
Click here to view the article as it appeared in The Day.