BRISTOL - The Connecticut Department of Transportation has big plans for realigning the intersection of Routes 72 and 69 in the West End, to reduce traffic congestion and improve safety for vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists.
The project will involve widening Route 72, shifting it to the north, and adding dedicated left turn lanes, and extending Pratt Street one block north to connect with 72. Divinity Street will be terminated at its intersection with Landry Street. Four multi-family buildings will need to be demolished.
DOT officials laid out the details for State Project No. 17-187 at an informational session at City Hall. The estimated cost is $6 million, 80% federally funded and 20% state funded, said Joseph Arsenault, project engineer.
“Barring any major setbacks, we’re expecting the design to be completed in the summer of 2021, which would allow for construction to start in the spring of 2022. Right now we are anticipating two seasons of construction,” Arsenault said.
Because the 72-69 intersection and the 72-Divinity intersection are so close, “it’s really functioning as one big six-leg intersection versus two intersections,” he said.
“About 15,300 is the average number of vehicles traveling through there in a day,” Arsenault said. “So we do see congestion in that area pretty much along all the legs, especially in the morning rush hour or evening rush hour.”
The DOT crash data for that area, from 2015 to 2017, shows a total of 72 crashes and 13 injuries.
Arsenault noted that narrow shoulders make the area difficult for bicyclists, and people tend to use Divinity to bypass traffic backups on 72. In addition, tight curves make it difficult for tractor trailers to travel through, so they end up encroaching on other lanes or popping the curb. The project is intended to fix all of that.
He acknowledged that shifting Route 72 north will cut into a nearby parking lot with five spaces. To compensate, the DOT will construct two new parking lots in the area, one with about 20 spaces and one with five spaces.
Arsenault also pointed out that by extending Pratt, it will help compensate for closing off access to 72 from Divinity.
“So we still want to maintain access for that neighborhood to 72. Pratt Street will be stop sign controlled. On 72 there will be a dedicated left turn lane [to Pratt] to get those left turners out of the way for through moving vehicles,” he said.
The state plans to demolish a multi-family house at 50 Divinity St., and take over a nearby city-owned vacant lot, which are in the way of the Pratt extension. To allow for shifting 72 north, the DOT plans to take down 2 Divinity St., which houses Wah Lung Restaurant and apartments, and multi-family buildings at 2-8 Park St. and 12 Park St.
Arsenault said there will also be about five “sliver takes” – acquisitions of small amounts of area property, as well as acquiring easements for minor work like replacing sidewalks.
Matt Geanacopoulos, DOT property agent, said “the property impacts are still subject to change as the design moves forward.”
In accordance with state statute and federal law, when the DOT is ready to begin acquiring property, Geanacopoulos said “each affected property owner will receive an official letter of intent to acquire, along with a property map which will depict the exact rights to be acquired.”
The state will determine a fair market value to offer each owner as “just compensation,” and send an agent to meet with the owners and explain the process, he explained. “The property owner will have a reasonable time to consider the offer and negotiate if they choose.”
However, if a property owner and the state can’t reach an agreement, the state may use its power of eminent domain, according to Geanacopoulos.
“What happens in that case is the state files a notice of condemnation in superior court, along with a deposit in the amount of the state’s offer of just compensation. The property owner would have six months from the date of that filing to appeal for a reassessment of the damages, if they felt that the offer was inadequate,” said Geanacopoulos.
Whether the owner chooses to appeal or not, the money is available for them to withdraw, he explained.
“I know a lot of people hear ‘eminent domain’ and they think the state can just take whatever they want, pay you a dollar, take it or leave it - but no. Everybody is entitled to at least that original offer of just compensation,” said Geanacopoulos.
Geanacopoulos said tenants and business owners affected by the project are also entitled to certain benefits to help them relocate.
Arsenault also stated that the DOT plans to maintain access to all properties throughout construction, as well as bi-directional traffic during the rush hour times, with some possible detours.
“We do want traffic to be flowing during the rush hours,” he said. “During the daytime in between rush hours we do plan on having some lane closures. In that case we’ll have alternating one-ways, or there will be flaggers out there letting one direction go and then the other.”
Arsenault pointed out that there could also be some night work.
“We do realize it’s a residential area so we want to keep the impacts to a minimum, but we also want to keep the project moving along,” he said.
Susan Fielder, DOT landscape designer, will be working with the designers to prepare planting and sidewalk plans that will encourage people walking through the area and to the nearby parks, while complementing the architecture of buildings in the area.
“Our goal actually is to make it super comfortable for a person to take the bus from this intersection and walk another quarter mile, half mile, to their destination,” she said.
Arsenault said anyone with questions or comments can contact him by email at Joseph.D.Arsenault@ct.gov.
Ray Rogozinski, Public Works director, said his department has been working closely with the state on this so city residents with questions can also contact his office with questions, at 860-584-6125.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.