Public Workshops on Route 9 Traffic Signal Removal

By John Hall

The article below was posted before the Feb. 21 & 22 workshop sessions.  Since then, we have learned that there will be a follow-up workshop and presentation at Wesleyan University on April 30.  The exact time and campus location of that event have not been announced, but we will add those details to this post when they become available. 

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