MERIDEN — The city has abandoned plans to eliminate one-way traffic along East and West Main streets after the state Department of Transportation raised concerns over the impact on downtown railroad crossings.
Instead the city has presented a scaled back plan to eliminate one way streets primarily west of the railroad tracks.
The DOT advised against two-way traffic along the corridor between Pratt Street and Cook Avenue due to potential issues with the increase in service from the new CTrail. The rail line runs through East Main and Perkins streets downtown.
“There were significant challenges already with trying to make it two-way, but with DOT’s additional concerns, there was just no way to practically make it work,” Public Works Director Howard Weissberg told the City Council Monday night.
Weissberg said the DOT “strongly recommended” against changing to two-way traffic when the city submitted its original plans in October 2017. The city also scrapped its original plan to create two-way traffic around Perkins Square from East Main Street to South Colony, he said.
The alternative plan presented by Weissberg will create two-way traffic on Cook Avenue between Hanover and West Main streets and two-way traffic on Hanover Street between Cook Avenue and South Grove Street. Other one-way streets that will be made two-way include Butler Street, South Grove Street between West Main and Hanover, Church Street between Colony and Barristers Court, and Pratt Street at East Main.
The alternative plan enhances safety at the rail crossings and creates less “conflict points” at the crossings, Weissberg said.
“The current plan is certainly a marked improvement, there’s no question about that,” said Midstate Chamber of Commerce President Sean Moore. “It’ll improve flow and increase public safety.”
City Manager Tim Coon said the new plans will “make it easier for citizens to gain access to the developments that will be occurring in the future” and will also give the police department, at 50 W. Main St., “better egress and ingress from their facility.”
City officials have long eyed the project to improve downtown traffic circulation, support accessibility to downtown businesses and improve pedestrian safety and mobility. Downtown traffic patterns have long been a source of ire for motorists.
In 2016, the city wrote in a federal grant application that “the downtown roadway network has been aptly described as '...a sucking vortex of vehicular doom... (where motorists) drive in confused circles wondering how you get there and more importantly how, and whether, you can ever get out again,” citing an independent blogger for the description.
The city in 2016 received a $2.9 million Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program grant from the Federal Highway Administration for the project, which is expected to cover construction costs.
Moore said two-way access on West and East Main would be nice and benefit downtown businesses, but he considers it “impractical” given the width of the street. The city has already removed bump-outs on West Main and Hanover streets as part of the project, which Moore says has helped improve traffic flow.
Moore said the nexus of Meriden’s downtown traffic problems dates back to the 1800s, when the city decided to move the center of downtown from the corner of East Main and Broad, with wider streets, closer to the rail line on West and East Main streets, which were narrower and had existing buildings that prevented the city from widening the streets.
“In a very interesting kind of way, we’re still recovering from those decisions of the past,” Moore said.
Weissberg said “semifinal” designs for the project are 35 percent complete and are expected to be finished in the spring, at which point the city will hold a public information session to get feedback from residents. The city hopes to start construction in 2020 and complete the project in one season, Weissberg said.