The Jonah Center urges citizens to attend the public information meeting offered by CT DOT on Tuesday, July 26, at 7 p.m. at the Elks Lodge at 47 Maynard Street in Middletown.
While the proposal will certainly help commuters whose aim is to pass through Middletown without stopping, it will have negative impacts for Middletown residents. Conditions for walkers and cyclists along deKoven Drive will be worsened, and the views of the Connecticut River waterfront from that same street, which runs parallel to the waterfront and Route 9, will be further obstructed.
The $75 million CT DOT proposal calls for raising two sections of the southbound lane of Route 9: north and south of Hartford Avenue, and again north and south of Washington Street. How much will the roadway be elevated? Allowing for a 17-foot underpass, plus the bridge structure itself, we are talking about a 22-foot wall (at its highest point) facing deKoven Drive, though it would obviously be lower as the highway returns to its present grade. Views of the river and the trees on the river’s bank would be significantly blocked for someone standing on deKoven Drive in the vicinity of Washington Street.
This raised southbound lane would also be visible looking westward from parts of the riverfront itself, and the noise of the traffic would likely be louder, especially in the northernmost section of Harbor Park. This effect compromises the community’s goal to create a serene and pleasant waterfront environment. – a vision toward which tens of millions of dollars have already been invested to decommission the riverside sewage treatment plant.
The CT DOT proposal also calls for a roundabout (or traffic circle) at the Route 9 Washington Street interchange so that traffic exiting from and entering Route 9 will not have to stop. (The traffic volume at this location will be higher than it is at present because the Hartford Avenue exit for northbound traffic, currently a left hand turn for cars headed for the Arrigoni Bridge and points east of the river, will be closed.) According to CT DOT engineers, vehicles on this proposed roundabout would be slowed to 15 mph, but a fairly constant stream of even slow-moving traffic will constitute a challenge for anyone walking or bicycling along deKoven Drive who needs to cross Washington Street. No pedestrian crossing button is currently planned because, again, that would stop motorized traffic. This design appears to conflict with CT DOT’s own “Complete Streets” policy “to consider the needs of all users, of all abilities and ages (specifically including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and vehicle operators) in the planning, programming, design, construction, retrofit and maintenance activities related to all roads and streets ….” (CT DOT Policy Statement , October 23, 2014.)
While removing the traffic lights at exits 15 and 16 will be a boon to commuters, we also need to consider the negative impacts on the adjacent property owners and local community. In particular, the public needs to understand the visual impact of the plan and how some of the congestion and pollution from Route 9 would be transferred to Middletown’s Main Street and side street area. As it stands, the proposal would take Middletown backwards in our effort to reconnect with the river and it would create problems and dangers for walkers and bicyclists. Could the plan be modified to achieve some of Middletown’s goals related to the riverfront?
It’s a situation and proposal that warrants serious and deep citizen engagement. That’s the purpose of the meeting. We hope many community members will be there.