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OPINION: Weaving through the Meriden highways

OPINION: Weaving through the Meriden highways

Here are my favorite recent lines from officialdom:

“Significant weaving maneuvers occurring at closely spaced on/off ramps.”

“Inadequate geometric elements such as shoulder widths, minimum radius, grade and vertical clearances, lane balance, etc.”

In case you do not have an interpreter handy I will translate:

The troubled triangle is a mess.

The troubled triangle is where Interstate 91, Interstate 691 and Route 15 all come together for not so much fun. Which happens to be in Meriden.

In other words, it’s our place.

We are so used to it we don’t need a translator for the Department of Transportation’s descriptions above: We are well aware of “significant weaving maneuvers.” We have to perform them all the time, the equivalent of Saquon Barkley slipping through a defensive line. Our predicament is more perilous, since we’re slipping through high-speed travel lanes.

When it comes to the triangle, I think we all have our favorites, or anti-favorites. For a long time the one I’d bring up involves the commute to Hartford. Let’s say you get on I-691 at Broad Street. You have precious little time and precious little space to perform the significant weaving maneuver required to get into the left-lane exit for I-91. If you do this in the morning, which is when, after all, people tend to commute, you have possibly the additional challenge of blinding light ahead from the sun, rising in the east.

If you’re heading the other way you also encounter absurdity. If you want to travel to New Haven, or Wallingford, or Meriden, off I-691 it’s another left-lane exit, pretty soon after which you need to get on I-91, 15 or the East Main Street exit in Meriden. This is a not-so-straighforward choice, evidenced by how easily the route backs up or even turns into a temporary parking lot, for no other reason that I can gather but confusion.

It’s doubtful you’d build modern highways with left-lane exits or entrances — these are supposed to be passing lanes, after all — but those are nearly the defining characteristics of the triangle. I’ve been told emergency responders can wind up in the wrong place, because people calling in about trouble aren’t sure where they are.

Think about it this way: If it’s confusing for us, the drivers who maneuver the triangle routinely, how much of a mess must it look like to travelers from outside? And there’s a lot of them. The DOT says 120,000 vehicles along I-91, 80,000 vehicles from I-691 and 60,000 on Route 15. That’s a lot of drivers dealing with inadequate geometric elements. Every day.

What’s to be done?

Well, money, of course, and lots of it: A $25 million design phase and a total project cost weighing in at an estimated $290 million. Though how to come up with the money at the moment remains an X-factor, the project is rightly viewed as essential.

“The I-91-I-691-Route 15 interchange is one project that the (state DOT) has identified as an instant time-saver which must be viewed as a necessity for Connecticut commuters,” said  Max Reiss, a spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont, as reported in the Record-Journal.

So there’s pursuit of federal funding and continuing debate about how best to fund state transportation, either through bonding or tolls, which the governor still supports.

My feeling about tolls is that a more traditional approach could have fared better. It’s one of those cases where we might have been better off following the crowd, as in putting tolls at the borders. Instead the state plan was to set up gantries all over the place, an idea that was perhaps too Big Brother reminiscent of the loathsome mileage tax, which everybody hated so much even having Connecticut study the idea was considered objectionable.

In any case, this is going to take a while. Plan on many more years of significant weaving maneuvers and inadequate geometric elements.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or