Sidewalk Progress In Portland

After a long delay, the residents of Chatham Court (Portland Housing Authority) now have a sidewalk leading to Marlborough Street. This project, proposed in 2019 by former First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield and Portland’s  Complete Streets Group, provides residents with pedestrian access to medical offices, food shopping, and more. We appreciate the initiative of current First Selectmen Ryan Curley and Public Works Director Ryan O’Halpin, who persuaded property owners on Riverside Street to grant easements for sidewalk construction and relocation of some utility poles.

More information on Portland’s sidewalk plans can be found here.

We Need Our Readers’ Support

We thank everyone who has supported our Annual  Appeal for 2024.  We still have a ways to go, however.  If you value the progress we have made in improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure, planting trees, and building a network of environmental advocates, please make a donation here.  Watch our new project video on our Wildlife Viewing Trail in Middletown’s North End.


Middletown Night Life

Video captured several nights in September and October, 2023, by Phil LeMontagne

During the day it takes some luck to see the nocturnal animals which live all around us. Night time is when they are active. Always searching for food, a variety of nocturnal animals visit our compost pile and a ground mounted bird feeder in the backyard. The images were taken in infrared light. A structure located behind the retina called the tapetum lucidum give nocturnal animals better night vision and causes their eyes to glow when light strikes them in the dark.

DOT Plans for Route 9 Traffic Signal Removal

By John Hall

Sometime within the next 3-6 months, CT DOT is expected to make a public presentation to the Middletown community on the state’s latest proposal on their plan to remove the traffic signals on Route 9. Whether you think the traffic signals should be removed at all is a whole other topic, but the state sounds determined that they will be removed to comply with state and federal goals related to highway safety. The question here is: If the signals are removed, what do we want the resulting on-ramps and off-ramps to look like.

The picture below is a rendering of what CT DOT has proposed for the major intersection between Route 9 and Hartford Avenue, the street that goes down from Main and St. John’s Square to Route 9.

DOIT proposal for Route 9 and Hartford Ave., looking west.

The elevated southbound lane will allow through traffic to proceed without stopping, and for traffic entering northbound and southbound to enter without stopping. So far, so good. The major problem with this proposal is that there is no northbound exit going up Hartford Avenue to Main Street and the Arrigoni Bridge.

The picture below shows what the DOT has proposed for the intersection of Washington Street and Route 9. There is no southbound exit onto Washington Street, but this proposal requires another section of elevated southbound lanes. The elevation would be approximately 23-feet, imposing an ugly, high visual barrier between deKoven Drive and the river.Our city is looking for ways to improve the relationship between the downtown and the river, not block it more severely. Notice also the proposed roundabout just to the right (west) of the southbound lanes. Since 2016, when this rendering was created, DOT seems to have concluded that there is not sufficient area for this roundabout, so the traffic signal at deKoven and Washington would likely be retained under this plan.

DOT proposal for Route 9 & Washington Street, looking south

At numerous public meetings on proposed changes to Route 9, I have argued strongly that the CT DOT plans for these 2 intersections are terrible and need t be rejected. I am supportive of the goal of removing the traffic signals from Route 9 to reduce accidents, to reduce air pollution from idling vehicles, to reduce the noise from accelerating and decelerating vehicles near the riverfront, and to reduce gasoline consumption. But these goals can be achieved without the proposed disasters at the above 2 locations.

The picture below shows what Middletown’s Department of Public Works has proposed for the Hartford Avenue intersection. It allows for a critically important northbound exit to Main Street and the Arrigoni Bridge to be retained by controlling (or signalizing) the entering and exiting northbound traffic. This could be accomplished by a roundabout, a stop sign, or an alternating traffic signal. Southbound through-traffic would not have to stop due to the elevated southbound lanes, which are not visually depicted in this 2- dimensional diagram.

The city’s proposal for the Washington Street & Route 9 intersection is to avoid the need for elevated southbound lanes. This can be accomplished by removing the northbound exit at Washington Street. Instead, a northbound exit should be constructed onto River Road near the old sewage treatment plant. River Road would be realigned and improved for pedestrians and bicyclists. While an exit at this location is not ideal, it appears to be the only feasible option for another northbound exit that is needed to avoid overloading the Hartford Ave exit. This exit would have the advantage of providing more direct access to the southern part of the downtown, Middlesex Hospital, and Wesleyan University.

I share these photos and comments because we need our community to be aware of these competing options. Because of the limited space between deKoven Drive and the river, no option is perfect. Compromise between competing interests is required. We who care about our community need to be prepared to advocate for the solution that is best for Middletown. As stated above, we expect to have that opportunity in late 2023 or early 2024.

In early 2023, the Jonah Center developed a “white paper” stating the facts, principles and goals that need to be considered and incorporated into any acceptable plan. That statement may be viewed here.  Route 9 Traffic Signals — Getting to Yes

$3 Million Awarded to Air Line Trail – Farmington Canal Trail Connector Route

The Jonah Center’s most far-reaching project — to connect the 2 longest multi-use trails in Connecticut — has been awarded 3 grants: a $315,000 route study grant by CT DOT in February 2022; a $500,000 grant by the state bond commission in April 2022; and a $2 million grant by the bond commission in October 2023. We thank Senator Matt Lesser whose leadership and advocacy has enabled this progress and funding. (Please note that none of these funds pass through or benefit the Jonah Center.) These grants will allow the project to proceed from route study (which is now underway) to design and construction work. The most recent $2 million grant is intended to be used as state & local matching funds for $8 million in federal transportation funds to be applied for in the future. In short, we are well on our way to making the connector route a reality. Continue reading

Mosaics on Main & Tunnel Vision

Middletown’s Common Council gave the green light to local artist Kate TenEyck  to transform the tunnel under Route 9 to Harbor Park and the tunnel entrance. The space will resemble an archaeological dig, using mosaic images depicting Middletown’s cultural and natural history. The image below shows some of the themes that are planned.  For more details on this exciting project download the PDF here: Mosaics on Main PDF 2023-09.


Sidewalk Improvements in Portland

There is good news for the many walkers, runners, and users of wheelchairs and strollers in Portland. The town has plans for another phase of sidewalk improvements along Main Street. Building upon previous town-funded and state-funded sidewalk improvements since 2017, a recent Connecticut STEAP grant (small town economic assistance program) awarded to Portland will allow the town to extend the new Main Street sidewalk approximately one-half mile on the west side of Main Street from Arvid Street to a point near 510 Main Street. Construction is expected to take place during the 2024 construction season. The new sidewalk will be 5 feet wide, replacing the existing, damaged 4-foot sidewalk.

The town was also previously awarded a Community Connectivity grant to provide better accessibility in the area of the Chatham Court apartments. (Photo at left.) This includes a new bus stop and sidewalk on Riverside Street and a short sections of Airline Avenue, Marlborough Street, High Street, and Freestone Avenue (Below is a map showing the larger area of these improvements.) The project will also replace badly damaged sidewalks along High Street going towards Valley View School and Portland High School as well as updating the sidewalk and ramps to be ADA compliant. There will be a redesigned pedestrian crosswalk and an updated signal at the complicated intersection of Marlborough Street (Rt. 66) & High Street.  As shown below, this area is also significant because of the possibility of a future extension of the Air Line Trail across this intersection. Construction is planned for the fall of 2023. Continue reading

Potter Wasp Nest-Building

Phil LeMontagne’s 7-minute video shows us a potter wasp’s craft in building a nest from tiny balls of mud it brings to a plant stem. The video periodically advances to show all stages of the process. Then the nest builder brings in some juicy larvae! Note the intricate opening to the nest the wasp shapes toward the end.

Landscape Art — Imagine It In Your Community

The Jonah Center has long envisioned what major landscape art installations would do for our community.  Below are some examples to stir your imagination. (Clockwise from upper left: Face of the Earth by Vito Acconci at Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis, MO; Wave Field by Maya Lin at Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, NY; Low Building With Dirt Roof by Alice Aycock at Storm King; Ball Made From Sticks by Strijdom van der Merwe, Stellenbosch, South Africa.)

Student Documentary Film: The Pameacha Problem

During the 2022-23 academic year, Wesleyan film students under the leadership of Professor Sadia Queraeshi Shepard produced a short documentary film, The Pameacha Problem, on the citizen campaign to save the pond. The City of Middletown had been planning to turn the pond into a stream and wetland area by removing the deteriorating dam.  The film is a good example of using the aesthetic tool of film to tell the story.  The film may be viewed here. An article about the film in the Middletown Press can be viewed here. The Jonah Center was instrumental is getting the students interested in this community issue.

An aerial view of Pameacha Pond included in the film.

Newfield Trail Delayed

Progress on route determination and design of the Newfield Corridor Trail between Tuttle Road and Mile Lane has been delayed over the past year due to several issues. First was an archaeological survey required to determine if the route crossed the remains of a Wangunk settlement believed to be somewhere in the vicinity.  That survey has been completed, with no Native American settlement remains identified.

The current delay involves a proposed land swap between the city and a local developer who wishes to build 2 apartment buildings off Kaplan Drive, just east of Lawrence School.

Continue reading