CT DOT Public Information Meeting on Proposal To Remove Traffic Signals From Route 9 in Middletown

Route 9 congestion

View of Route 9 looking south from the Arrigoni Bridge.

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.

Water Chestnut Infestation — Urgent Call To Action

Water chestnut infestation location map

Red arrows show the locations where water chestnut plants were found on July 2, 2016.

The Jonah Center for Earth and Art calls all paddlers of canoes and kayaks to help remove harmful and invasive water chestnut plants from the lower Mattabesset and Coginchaug Rivers in Middletown.  Work parties of canoeists and kayakers are have gone out on 4 separate occasions, removing 10 canoes-full of plants.  We are scheduled again for Sunday, July 24, at 9 a.m., launching onto the lower Coginchaug from the Phil Salafia Canoe and Kayak Launch at 181 Johnson Street, in Middletown’s North End, adjacent to the City’s recycling center.  From there it is only a short paddle to the area of infestation.  Each work party lasts  approximately 2 hours.  We need as many canoeists and kayakers as possible to assist in this effort, but canoes are especially important to haul the plants out.  Paddlers need to bring their own boats, lifejackets, water, Water chestnutand other equipment.  Please watch this post for schedule changes.

Based on experiences in nearby tributaries of the Connecticut River, we know that water chestnut plants can spread very quickly and take over a waterway, choking out sunlight and oxygen and severely damaging fish populations and other forms of aquatic life. It is critical that we remove these plants and dispose of them properly before the problem becomes worse.  Water chestnuts drop their seeds or spiny “nuts” during July, which makes this effort especially urgent.

These invasive water chestnut plants (a different species entirely from the food item commonly associated with Asian cuisine) can be pulled up by the roots using a simple, gentle technique. Knowing how harmful the plants can be, participants will find this activity to be gratifying and fun.  Through this rapid response action, we are hoping to arrest decisively further spreading, so that fewer plants will appear next summer.

Participants will be asked to sign liability waivers but will not be asked for a donation to support these work party events.

For any questions about this project, contact John Hall at 860-398-3771.

Pictured is Janice EhleMeyer with water chestnuts she pulled up during the July 2 river paddle, when the investation was discovered.

Pictured is Janice Ehlemeyer with water chestnuts she pulled up during the July 2 river paddle, when the infestation was discovered.

Canoe and Kayak Paddle — July 2 at noon

2011 June paddle bannerThe Jonah Center invites kayakers and canoeists to a group paddle in Middletown’s Floating Meadows – a 1000 acre freshwater tidal marshland — on Saturday, July 2, from 12 noon until 2:30 p.m. Paddlers will launch from the City of Middletown’s new Phil Salafia Canoe and Kayak Launch at 181 Johnson Street, travel down the Coginchaug River for a short distance to the Mattabesset River, and from there paddle on the Mattabesset River upstream toward Cromwell. Water level in these rivers is currently low, but the trip is timed to coincide with high tide. Continue reading

Public Input Sought For Wilcox Preserve

Wilcox PropertyThe Wilcox Conservation Area is a 126-acre forested, City open-space property located off Atkins Street and Footit Drive. The City is in the process of developing a management plan for the area and is looking to engage residents on their use (or lack thereof), concerns, and thoughts about the property.

On Wednesday June 15 at 6:30 pm, the City’s Department of Planning, Conservation and Development in conjunction with the Conservation Commission and the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association (CFPA) will hold a public forum at CFPA, located at 16 Meriden Road (Route 66) in Rockfall, to discuss the conditions and future vision for the Wilcox Conservation Property.

Residents are strongly encouraged to attend to share their views on the property and to provide input on future management activities. Citizen hopes and concerns will shape and support forest and trail management efforts at the property.

See A Turtle? Take A Photo and Become A Citizen Scientist

CT Turtle AtlasAll you need is a digital camera and an internet connection to take part in an exciting turtle-tracking project. The Bruce Museum in Greenwich is looking for Citizen Scientists to record observations wherever they occur in Connecticut  The project is called the Connecticut Turtle Atlas. There is an iNaturalist smart phone app that makes it even easier. To learn why this is so important and how to get started, see below. Continue reading

BEAUTIFYING HARBOR PARK

City residents are invited to attend a planning session on Harbor Park with the Middletown Garden Club, the City of Middletown Planning Department, and the Conway School of Landscape Design. Two sessions will be held:

Thursday, May 5, at 6:30 pm at the Senior/Community Center, 63 Durant Terrace, and

Thursday, June 9, at 6:30 pm in the Hubbard Room of Russell Library, 123 Broad Street.

A team of graduate students from the Conway School have taken on the project of interpreting the community’s vision of an improved Harbor Park; the project is under-written through the Susan B. Wasch Riverfront Development Fund, which is managed by the Middletown Garden Club. The goal is to increase usage of the park and expand opportunities to enjoy the waterfront through active and passive access to natural resources.

The Conway School, located in Conway, MA, offers masters’ degrees in ecological design. Their mission is to explore, develop, practice, and teach design of the land that is ecologically and socially sustainable. The Middletown Garden Club, a 501(c)(3) organization, has worked to beautify the city of Middletown for over 100 years.

Common Council Adopts Complete Streets Ordinance

Logo-v01-OTOn Monday, March 7, 2016, at its 7 p.m. meeting, Middletown’s Common Council unanimously adopted the Complete Streets Ordinance proposed by the City’s Complete Streets Committee. We wish to thank the many citizens who attended the meeting to show their support. The ordinance requires the City to consider the needs of all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, users of wheelchairs, and public transit riders when planning transportation improvement projects. The text of the draft ordinance can be viewed here.

In practice, passage of the ordinance means that the Complete Streets Committee will have an official role in planning these improvements, insuring that our streets and roadways are modified (wherever possible and where costs are justified by the likelihood of significant community benefits) to make them safer, more usable, and more attractive for all residents, not just those driving cars and trucks.

Bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly improvements are expected to be made when roadways and sidewalks are scheduled for work as part of road bond projects, with priority given to areas around schools and commercial districts.  The Complete Streets Committee is already working with Middletown’s Public Schools to encourage more students to  walk or bike to school. The construction of multi-use trails to connect various parts of the city for non-motorized transportation and recreation is another goal of the Complete Streets Committee and the Jonah Center.  For more information on these plans, click here.