Public Workshops on Route 9 Traffic Signal Removal

By John Hall

CT DOT will hold 2 public “open-house” workshops on the state’s project to remove the traffic signals on Route 9.  The dates and times are Wed. Feb. 21, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Thurs. Feb. 22, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Residents of Middletown and Portland are strongly urged to attend and participate in the discussion that will affect local traffic patterns and access to the Arrigoni Bridge. There will NOT be a formal presentation at the beginning of these sessions. Instead, you may show up at any time during the session and speak with DOT representatives about the plans on display.

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. The Middletown community 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 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.

 

 

 

 

DOT seems to have 2 major reasons for eliminating this northbound access: First, people in cars waiting in the far left lane of Route 9 before turning left are endangered by vehicles in the next lane (to their right) speeding by. Second, a signal at that point that alternates entering and exiting northbound traffic would cause entering traffic to back up to St. John’s Square and Main Street.

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 the whole wider community on both sides of the river.

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

We’re Hiring – Summer Field Workers Needed

Water chestnut work parties are fun, social activities. They are also a hands-on opportunity to save an ecosystem from being choked to death by floating invasive plants that damage habitat for fish and birds.

The Jonah Center is seeking to fill 4 part-time seasonal (May – August) field work positions to remove invasive water chestnut plants in the Floating Meadows. The positions are 1 Field Work Coordinator and 3 Field Workers.

The Field Work Coordinator will organize and lead volunteer work parties on weekend mornings and lead Field Workers in additional work parties during the week. Field Workers will assist volunteers in making outings productive, enjoyable, and safe for all involved. Kayaks will be provided for use by field workers who need one. Continue reading

Herbicide Treatment of Water Chestnut

The proliferation of invasive plants such as water chestnut and hydrilla in the Connecticut River, its tributaries, and local ponds has led to more common use of EPA-approved herbicides by government agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the State of Connecticut’s Office of Aquatic Invasive Species (OAIS).

Paddlers work on a thick mat of water chestnut plants. If we can pull out the plants, the challenge becomes how to carry them, and then where to dispose of them.

The Jonah Center has asked each of these agencies for advice on how best to manage the water chestnut infestation in the Mattabesset River (Floating Meadows). The message we have heard is consistent. Hand-pulling is best where it is feasible. But there are some shallow areas with dense, stubborn infestations where hand-pulling by paddlers is not effective. Such areas represent a small percentage of the total surface area, but the seeds from these remote patches keep germinating in deeper areas, producing more patches that hand-pullers face each year. Every year, the seed bank in these coves and creeks grows. Continue reading

$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

How To Reduce Speeding?

Everyone knows that the “speeding problem” on local roads has gotten worse in recent years.  Add to that “distracted driving” (using one’s phone, texting, checking social media, etc. while behind the wheel), intoxicated drivers (from alcohol, cannabis, etc., and pedestrians who are also distracted or intoxicated. Finally, the height and weight of vehicles has increased over the years, raising the rate at which crashes result in serious injuries and fatalities. All of this means that our streets and highways have become more dangerous. There is widespread outrage among the public at the lack of speed limit enforcement. Continue reading

“Save As Your Throw”: A Concept Whose Time Has Come

by Krishna Winston

Currently president of the Jonah Center Board and chair of Middletown’s Resource Recycling Advisory Commission, Krishna Winston has been committed to environmental conservation since long before recycling became mandatory in the State of Connecticut in 1991. She served on the task force that designed Middletown’s first recycling program. In October of this year she spent sixteen hours going door to door on Middletown’s north side to inform residents about the new co-collection program beginning in November.

The Context

 Connecticut’s waste crisis became impossible to ignore once the MIRA trash-to-energy plant shut down in the summer of 2022, leaving 49 towns—representing about a third of the state’s trash—in the lurch. But the crisis has been in the making far longer. For decades the state DEP (now DEEP) has been setting targets for reducing waste, and time and again those targets have been missed. With more and more disposable and single-use items, along with packaging, much of it difficult or impossible to recycle, many residents’ trash carts are filled to overflowing. Because of contamination, single-stream recycling, originally intended to simplify and promote more recycling, has actually lowered the value of the material collected. To separate mixed recyclables into marketable commodities, material-recovery facilities (MRFs), like the one recently inaugurated by Murphy Road Recycling in Berlin’s industrial park, must be equipped with sophisticated and costly equipment imported from other countries. Whereas recycling once brought in some revenue, in recent years municipalities and hauling companies have been paying for recycling, and the cost keeps going up. Continue reading

Spectra Development’s Vision for City Property

The City of Middletown has engaged Spectra Construction & Development to produce plans for the property between the Middletown Police Department and deKoven Drive. A 2-level parking arcade occupied this site until 2018, when the deteriorating arcade was demolished. The property in its current condition is shown below, looking from Sgt. Dingwall Drive toward the Superior Court building and the Connecticut River.

At a recent meeting of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, Spectra presented preliminary renderings of one vision for the property. The preliminary nature of these drawings needs to be underscored, because this vision depends upon the City being successful in its effort to acquire the property owned by ATD (Attention to Detail) at the corner of Dingwall Drive and deKoven Drive, shown here.

Below are some of the renderings that Spectra shared at the Chamber of Commerce meeting. (We have permission to share these with our readers.) Continue reading

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.

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.