MERIDEN — As crews put finishing touches on the new-look Pratt Street, city officials and local businesses say they’re pleased with how the project turned out.
“I think it looks extremely nice,” said Jim Rinaldi, an employee of Prentis Printing Solutions on Pratt Street.
“We’re very happy with it,” Public Works Director Howard Weissberg said. “We essentially gauge it based on the types of comments we get and, for the most part, the comments we’ve gotten upon completion have been positive.”
Weissberg said the project, which began in December 2017, is scheduled to finish next week. The only work left to be done, he said, is some “aesthetic treatments” to the landscaped medians installed as part of the project.
While construction for the project caused headaches for travelers, Steve Chehotsky, owner of Little Rendezvous pizza shop on Pratt Street, said many of his customers feel the finished product turned out OK.
“The same consensus most people have is that it’s nice now that it’s done,” Chehotsky said. “It does look better than when we had manholes sticking up and an obstacle course out there.”
The city pursued the project, Weissberg said, primarily to improve traffic safety and cut down on motor vehicle accidents along Pratt Street by reducing the number of travel lanes and adding turning lanes.
“It’s a traffic safety, access management project first, it's a paving project second, and it's a beautification project third,” Weissberg said.
The project transformed Pratt Street from a four-lane road with no turning lanes into a boulevard-style roadway with one lane in each direction separated by turning lanes and landscaped medians in between.Speed reduction
Having only one “through” lane in each direction has significantly cut down on average vehicle speed, according to Weissberg.
“The speed reduction is amazing. It no longer feels like a road where you’re taking your life into your hands crossing or driving on,” he said. “Human nature is just to drive faster than the guy in front of you ... here there’s no ability to race because it’s a single file.”
Vehicle speed has dropped despite the road’s speed limit of 25 mph remaining the same.
“You want to have the roads designed so that you almost don’t even need to know what the speed limit is,” Weissberg said. “...What was happening was we had an airport landing strip as our road and people drove it as such.”Pedestrian safety
The project improves pedestrian safety by widening parking lanes and creating more distance between oncoming traffic and people getting out of their cars. The new medians also give pedestrians crossing a “safe space” to stand when they cross the street away from a crosswalk, Weissberg said.
The city needed to install medians along Pratt Street for the project to fill in the gaps between the center turning lanes. The city, in part, chose landscaped medians over painted and other types of medians because they’re more environmentally friendly and a “much more attractive solution,”
“It was a traffic safety project first and foremost. What you always want to do is separate your turning movements from your through movements, so that results in the turning lanes. Then the question is, ‘How do you handle what’s left?’ So you can either go with a flush median or a painted median or you can go with a raised median. And then once you go with a raised median, you start asking what type of material do you want to put in?”
Mulch and vegetation were planted inside each median. A “rubberized material with granite in it” encapsulates the mulch in each to keep the mulch from spilling out. The rubberized material is pervious, allowing it to absorb water from melted snow.
“The goal is to make it attractive but keep it low maintenance as well,” Weissberg said. Gateway to downtown
With the improvements, city officials want to see Pratt Street serve as a “gateway” greeting motorists who exit off Interstate 691 and drive downtown.
Many members of the public, though, haven’t been as optimistic.
“Now that it’s done, the thing I’ve heard the most is ‘waste of money,’” Chehotsky said about customers’ reaction.
“They know it’s (grant funded) but you still have to maintain it. They feel that the middle is just going to end up being overgrown bushes and nip bottles. Most people just have a really sour view of Meriden as a whole.”
The work on Pratt Street cost $3.2 million, all of which is being covered by state funds allocated for the project.
“I think most people are not really in touch with how things work because they figure, ‘Why waste (the money) on this when we could have used it on something els?’’ But that’s not how it works,” Chehotsky said.
”I think people are just quick to say, ‘Waste of money, could have been better used.’ ”