Residents of several neighborhoods abutting Route 175 voiced their concerns about a new plan to reconfigure the road’s intersection with Alumni Road, and their comments are now being considered by town officials.
Regarded by police to be among the most dangerous in town, this intersection would get a traffic signal and be realigned with Maple Hill Avenue under the proposal, presented to the public by the Town Plan & Zoning Commission Monday night.
The town has been mulling over solutions to the intersection’s traffic problems for about 20 years, according to Commissioner Stanley Sobieski, who crafted the new design with Commissioner Domenic Pane. It is the latest of several proposals in recent years.
“The bottom driving force behind this is safety,” Sobieski said at Monday’s meeting. “I don’t want anybody to feel slighted on this; we’re trying to work with everybody, but I don’t want anybody to be killed here. A human life is more important than somebody’s issue with reconfiguring the road.”
Former Police Chief Richard Mulhall said there had been 250 accidents at the intersection between 1994 and 2014, 35 of which resulted in serious injuries.
The new plan calls for Maple Hill Avenue’s current entrance to Cedar Street to be capped off and re-routed behind four houses to align with Alumni Road. A cul-de-sac would be built at the former intersection, with vegetative and structural buffers added. It also calls for a traffic signal to be installed at the new crossroads and synched up with the one at the crossing of Old Farms Drive and Cedar Street.
These changes would allow for thru traffic on Alumni, where a gate was previously erected by the Department of Transportation to prevent drivers from cutting through to Willard Avenue. Additionally, sidewalks would be installed on Route 175 between Vincent Drive and Old Farms Road, to enhance pedestrian access.
In contrast to past proposals, this new plan is designed to ease congestion without requiring that any land be taken by eminent domain.
“This is the most reasonable option,” Pane said this week.
Maple Hill Avenue resident Chris Bieszczad is one of more than 100 members of a “Keep Alumni Road Closed” Facebook group.
“As I learn more about the plan and what the short and long term goals are, opening up this road is going to increase the amount of traffic on the road,” he said, adding, “It’s going to really change the neighborhood.”
Bieszczad is concerned that while officials are attempting to lessen the probability of car accidents there, opening up Alumni Road to thru traffic could pose a danger to pedestrians.
“By doing this you’re increasing traffic by the high school where there are lots of kids walking around the Willard end,” he said. “You’re just shifting the problem somewhere else.”
Newington resident Christopher McKinnon shared this same concern at Monday’s meeting.
He and his wife frequently jog on the track on Alumni Field before proceeding onto the road.
“We often see other runners there too,” he said. “We all know we are safer there than on any other road in this town.”
He suggested prohibiting left hand turns from Alumni onto Cedar, in hopes of eliminating the cause of recurring accidents there.
Sobieski said that idea wouldn’t work – pointing out that a large portion of the 2,000 vehicles that traverse Alumni daily belong to veterans and students leaving the VA Hospital and high school from abutting parking areas.
“A lot of them want to make a left hand turn there,” he said.
Sobieski also pointed out that speed bumps and stop signs could lessen the danger to pedestrians.
Newington Parks and Recreation Director Bill DeMaio, who lives on Burdon Lane, off of Vincent Drive, called the plan “a genius idea.”
“As far as safety goes this is a no-brainer,” said DeMaio, adding that he knew of 80 to 100 neighbors in agreement.
“It increases property values, gives us the opportunity to walk to the town center and connects everybody.”
The TPZ is now in the process of reviewing public comments made Monday before they send the plan to the Town Council for approval. It will then move on to the Department of Transportation, which has ultimate control over what happens with the state road.
“We want to analyze those meeting minutes to see what kind of things can be taken to make the plan better,” Pane explained. “We’re going to do some more research, so it could take a little while before we send it to the council. We want to do due diligence on this.”
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.