I have completed a review of the latest proposed designs to remove the traffic signals on Route 9 and the “Intersection Improvements along Main Street”. It is my understanding that the key issue driving the need for these changes is the traffic congestion on Route 9 at rush hour caused in part by the lights located on that highway. At the time the highway was designed and built the reason the lights were included at the current locations was to make sure that access to downtown Middletown would be maintained. Middletown merchants made public comments about the need to keep downtown Middletown accessible. The concern was that a freeway without lights would basically end up bypassing Middletown, which at that time was the commercial center for northern Middlesex County as well as the County seat.
The proposed modifications to the traffic signals on Route 9 proposed in Project 0082-0218 proposes to improve safety and improve access to downtown Middletown by removing the two traffic lights. The modification of access to Middletown from Route 9 South eliminates the exit at Washington Street while leaving the Hartford Avenue exit and the exit into DeKoven Drive at the foot of Martin Luther King Drive intact. This works well for vehicles moving on Route 9 South to go down county. It creates a myriad number of problems for people wishing to access downtown Middletown and who are seeking to head west in Middletown and towards Middlefield and Meriden.
The Route 9 South exit at Hartford Avenue remains unchanged so that it will provide access to the Arrigoni Bridge and the northern part of Main Street. In order to go west towards Washington Street traffic will have to run the gauntlet of traffic lights and crosswalks heading south on Main Street to Route 66. Nothing really changes here because that is the current situation. Most drivers have avoided using this route to access Washington Street for these reasons.
The Route 9 North exit proposed for Rapallo Avenue results in a “fly-over” design from Route 9 North over Route 9 South landing in the former “railroad yard” and crossing over tracks running parallel to Route 9 South and the railroad tracks heading west. Route 9 North’s exit dumps into a revised Rapallo Avenue which will become a one-way street heading west but will remain a two-way street heading east into DeKoven Drive. Street parking will be maintained on both sides of Rapallo Avenue. The Rapallo Avenue area has had major improvements to housing on the southern side of the street. Homeowners in these newly remodeled homes will now be directly across the street from a major Route 9 highway exit into Middletown.
In order to move west drivers will come to a halt at Main Street where Rapallo Avenue has a right turn only lane to head north towards the Arrigoni Bridge and St. John’s Church. In order to head south onto Main Street drivers will be confronted with oncoming traffic from Grand Street which is slightly offset to the South of Rapallo. Current conditions at this intersection are dangerous because of the “offset” situation with Grand Street being slightly south of Rapallo at the Main Street intersection.
This proposed design change I believe only exacerbates an already dangerous situation and will create major traffic congestion problems for those coming into Middletown from Route 9 North at this location.
The heavy concentration of both Route 9 South and Route 9 North traffic funneling into Middletown’s North End at this location will result in a “ball of traffic congestion” at the intersection of Hartford Avenue near St. John’s Church and O’Rourke’s Diner. The most current design does not appear to show the new development of a major office building at Grand Street in proximity to Main Street. This should be reviewed for impact on new traffic flow from Route 9 North’s exit with traffic heading south onto Main Street.
In order to help reduce congestion on Main Street heading south from Rapallo Avenue Project 0082-0319 proposes building “sidewalk bump-outs” and eliminating existing parking spaces on Main Street.
The concept of the “bump-outs” is supposed to improve the visibility for the pedestrian and motorist using the street. The actual result of the bump-out will be an increased cost of maintenance for the City of Middletown since it will require snowplow operators to maneuver around the bump-outs located at the intersections. Currently the snowplows are able to move freely up and down Main Street to remove the snow from the parking spaces. The removal of the parking spaces at Main Street and Washington Street and at other locations proposed by this “bump-out” methodology provide no new parking spaces for customers of Middletown’s stores and restaurants.
I believe the Route 9 South design will also result in intense congestion in the DeKoven Drive corridor as drivers will use this road as a way to get back to Washington Street to head west towards Middlefield and Meriden.
SUGGESTED ALTERNATIVE ROUTE 9 NORTH
EXIT INTO MIDDLETOWN
I strongly suggest that an alternative Route 9 North exit be examined by DOT. It should be located at the southern entrance to Middletown in proximity to the harbor area. By using this alternative the congestion in the North End would be eliminated. The area I am suggesting for the 9 North Exit would cross over a former municipal waste dumping area that has been partially remediated. It would avoid proximity to housing and would improve access to the Harbor Park area from Route 9 North. Drivers would have several options to head west including Union Street and DeKoven Drive. The Union Street intersection would enable drivers to use a number of alternative routes to head west which include Main Street at the South Green or heading west on Pleasant Street into Broad Street or Church Street to High Street. The result would be that providing alternative routing would lower congestion.
To summarize, I believe the proposed designs work well for elimination of traffic lights on Route 9 for those interested in heading north and south. I also believe that the design does not work well for drivers interested in heading west of Route 9 into Middletown and towards Middlefield and Meriden. The proposed modifications to Main Street will result in an intense increase in congestion in Middletown’s North End at Rapallo Avenue and Hartford Avenue. The proposed “bump-outs” and elimination of parking spaces will result in a negative impact on the maintenance of Main Street during inclement winter weather and will impact negatively on consumer access to Middletown’s stores and restaurants.