Straight talk begins for Routes 69, 72

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
When the West End study was completed in 2011, a main priority of that plan was making improvements to the intersections of Connecticut Route 69 (West Street).
Now, a plan is underway to turn that priority into a reality to address the vehicular and pedestrian safety concerns as well as to improve traffic operations in the West End. During an informational meeting last Tuesday led by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the city of Bristol, the public learned more about the proposed improvements to the intersections of Route 69 at Connecticut Route 72 (Park and School street).
Dave Hamelin, president of the West End Association, is a lifelong resident of Bristol who grew up on Divinity Street, and a business owner in the West End who travels through that intersection every day. Hamelin, who supports the plan, recalled how the intersection was difficult from the time he was growing up in Bristol.
“It was labeled the most important improvement the West End could have,” said Hamelin during the meeting. “It’s certainly well-needed. As a business owner, resident, and from the association’s point of view, we fullly support this.”
Under the proposed plan, the Route 69 and 72 intersection will be realigned by moving Route 72 to the north with the goal of providing a more conventional four-way intersection configuration.
In addition, the existing Divinity Street/ Park Street intersection will be eliminated, and a new “T” type intersection would be formed by extending Pratt Street north to Park Street.
Divinity Street parallels Route 72 and offers east-west access for the West End, serving as a bypass for commuters. Divinity Street has an average of 5,400 vehicles a day, according to data from 2012.
The estimated cost of the project is $8.1 million, and construction will possibly start in three to four years if approved.
Mayor Ken Cockayne expressed his support for
the plan.
“This is going to be huge for the West End,” said Cockayne. “It’s going to take care of a lot of congestion we have, a lot of the accidents we have. It’s also going to change the West End.”
Peter Talarico, supervising engineer of the project development unit at DOT, said part of the process involves ensuring that the plan’s concepts fit well within the community.
“This is a very early stage,” said Talarico. “It’s only at the concept stage, and this won’t be the last opportunity for [the public] to see or comment on the proposed design.”
Route 72 connects municipalities of the northern Naugatuck Valley (via Route 6) to municipalities in the Connecticut River Valley. Known as a major commuter and commerce route, Route 72 has an average of 14,300 vehicles per day, according to data from 2012. Route 69 currently connects Bristol to Wolcott, Waterbury, and points south. Known as a commuter and commerce route, Route 69 has an average of 8,200 vehicles a day, according to data from 2012.
“If you’re on Route 69 in either direction, and you’re trying to make a left turn onto Route 72…the path of that left-turning vehicle actually overlaps with the other left-turning vehicle,” said Tom Borden of the project development unit at DOT.
Borden said the length of crosswalks on Route 69 is another concern. He said the length of the crosswalks not only extends exposure for pedestrians, but they also create some additional delay.
Borden also said there is an unconventional configuration of Route 72 (Park Street) at Divinity and Landry Streets, which makes for difficult turning movements in some directions.
“You’ve got a ‘y’ configuration at Divinity and Park street that kind of makes some movements more difficult,” said Borden, adding that Landry Street is offset 50 feet west from Park Street.
According to the proposal, the relocation of the Route 69/Route 72 intersection would not only improve the horizontal alignment of Route 72, but also would shorten crosswalk distances on Route 69 and allow sufficient space/sight distance for left turns from Route 69 as well as more width for exclusive left-turn lanes on Route 72.
Tim Bobroske, vice president of the West End Association, supported the plan. Bobroske added he would like to see a DOT camera incorporating the West End, so the public would have a way of seeing the kind of traffic in that are and to benefit the police department.
“Safety is a very important aspect of the West End,” said Bobroske.
Samuel Vasile, co-owner of Southside Meat Market located on West Street, also supported the plan.
“I believe this realignment is truly a godsend,” said Vasile, adding how the plan will beautify the area.
Dori Green, owner of the Artist Tree Tea House in the West End, said she also was in favor of the project, which she hopes will bring aesthetics back to the area.
During the meeting, Public Works Director Walter Veselka said it is likely that the city will recommend two changes to the proposed plan: the inclusion of a linear park that creates a connection down to Rockwell Park and Muzzy Field, and the addition of more parking in the West End. Veselka encouraged the public to comment on those two changes.
State Senator Henri Martin (R-31), who also serves on the City Council, encouraged the DOT to use the Pequabuck River as an asset, which also is mentioned in the West End study.
He suggested the proposed plan look at ways “to open up the Pequabuck River,” as well as the addition of a pathway/bikeway and more parking. A recommendation included in the West End study was to develop a “safe pedestrian/bicycle trail and other passive recreation uses along the Pequabuck River.”
“Realigning this intersection was one of the top priorities [of the West End study],” said Martin. “We want this to become a commercial part of our town.”
According to the proposal, the extension of Pratt Street to Park Street would allow for lower traffic volumes and vehicular speeds on Divinity Street, as stated in DOT’s presentation. However, because of this expansion, some residents on Divinity Street will be affected by the change.
Borden said despite those impacts, the DOT will help those residents find a new location, and every homeowner will be compensated for the value of their property.
“We have met with those property owners and…outlined what the process is for the department’s stage acquiring their property,” said Borden. “We do try to avoid impacts—unfortunately sometimes that’s a real challenge to do, and this is one of those cases.”
Barbara Hill, a longtime resident of Divinity Street, said that although she views the project as positive overall, she encouraged DOT not to cut through her street.
“I’ve seen the very best of this neighborhood, and the very worst of this neighborhood. I think the project is a good one,” said Hill. “But… if your plan…[says] traffic will be flowing down on Divinity Street, I really don’t see the need to make that cut through there because [there is] Tulip Street, which cuts through.”
Borden replied that DOT looked at the possibility of not extending Pratt Street, and concluded that because of the pizza restaurant (West End Pizza) and the parking lot that borders both Divinity and Park Street, there would be a certain degree of traffic cutting through that parking lot.
“We felt that we would be creating some safety concerns here,” said Borden.
The public will have an opportunity to express their thoughts and concerns during a two-week comment period before the City Council votes on the proposed plan. A plan of the proposed improvements is available for viewing in the Public Works Office on the ground floor of City Hall. Comments on the plan can be sent to Walter Veselka, public works director, at walterveselka@bristolct.gov or (860)584-6104.