DOT to reconfigure Middletown's dangerous, crash-heavy Route 9 on-ramps

Photo of Cassandra Day

MIDDLETOWN — After more than a decade of planning, the state Department of Transportation will begin work to reconfigure the Route 17 on-ramp to  northbound Route 9 to improve safety, aiming to reduce the high number of crashes at the interchange.

The project has become a priority of the agency, Mayor Ben Florsheim said, due to an “urgent need” for it to be addressed. 

According to the latest figures, from Jan. 1, 2018, to Dec. 31, 2020, there were a total of 340 crashes resulting in 40 injuries, DOT Transportation Supervising Engineer Steve Hall said Tuesday.

From Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2021, there were a total of 357 total crashes involving 67 injuries, he added. The agency conducts traffic studies in three-year periods, so some of the data overlaps.

Route 17 is a north/south roadway that connects Glastonbury to New Haven.

Florsheim, who formerly commuted from the city to Hartford, used the Route 17 interchange to Route 9 nearly every day. “It felt like almost every single day there was a crash at that stop sign in the morning. The statistics now bear that out,” he said.

“A much smaller portion of those have injuries, fortunately, because they typically happen at low speed,” he noted.  

The ramp was rated in poor condition based on the latest Bridge Safety Inspection Report dated March 31, 2020, according to the DOT. The design prevents proper maintenance of the bridge and has caused it to deteriorate.
 
At the beginning of the year, more than $40 million was delegated to the construction by the federal government. The money will enable a quicker start date and project timeframe, the mayor said.

“The construction elements of it will be a little bit destructive,” he said. “The goal is to get in and out as quickly as possible. It’s going to correct one of the worst traffic conditions in town and the state, which is the two really dangerous freeway entrances onto Route 9.”

A second lane to Route 9, at Harbor Drive, the only access road to Harbor Park, leads to a yield sign, which also contributes to issues at the site.

“People use that road as a highway on-ramp, right from where you come around the curve at Sumner Brook,” Florsheim said. “Harbor Drive does not want to be an on-ramp,” he said, paraphrasing what Hall said at the Sept. 29 meeting. “It wants to be a local access road to a park.

“The on-ramp doesn’t function well, either,” he added.

Presently, motorists merging onto the highway from the Route 17 expressway are met with a stop sign and sometimes may misjudge the speed of oncoming traffic.

This project was first shown to the public in 2014, however, there were periods of inactivity since then where it did not progress, Transportation Supervising Engineer Stephen Hall said Tuesday.

The DOT has incorporated “vociferous” feedback from the community about the project over the last few years in previous versions of the plan, the mayor said.

“This is the final iteration, with the exception of possible minor changes," Hall explained.
 
The agency meets with city officials monthly, who have coordinated design elements, and has met with Cooper Robertson, the firm that came up with the master plan.

Changes coincide with the city’s master plan for riverfront revitalization, which seeks to reconnect Middletown to the Connecticut River. It was altered during the construction of Route 9.

“Part of the reason why we’re going through this planning process is there was some poor infrastructure planning made with the location of the highway, (now decommissioned) water sewer treatment plant facility (on River Road)," the mayor explained.

“It’s opened their eyes a little bit to try and think outside the box a little bit more, and get creative about how we can make Harbor Park pedestrian connections at the riverfront a little bit friendlier,” the mayor explained. "It also going to be big aesthetic and functional improvements for the downtown.”

That road leading to the on-ramp at Harbor Drive will be eliminated by the DOT, Florsheim explained. These changes are expected to not only improve the flow of traffic, but “create more pleasant, park-like, pedestrian-friendly conditions” there.

“It’s multiple birds with one stone, and definitely a project we’re excited to see completed,” the mayor said.

“It’s going to be a little bit challenging, as all big construction projects are, to make sure we stay out in front of it, and communicate about when there are going to be lane closures," Florsheim said.

The stop-controlled configuration at the Route 17/South Main Street interchange to Route 9 north, at the intersection with Highland Avenue, will be replaced with a full-length acceleration lane, Hall said. The project generally was well-received by the approximately 35 attendees at the public informational meeting Sept 29, he added.

Questions addressed specific construction operations, project features, such as landscaping and congestion reduction, Hall said.
 
Florsheim recommended people watch the meeting video at youtu.be/470EBclClP0 to see the 45-minute DOT presentation. “These projects are so visual in nature,” he said. “The visuals go a long way to help explain what the traffic flow is going to look like, and why this is going to be a big improvement.”

The federal government is trying to use the recently approved infrastructure bill fund to reconnect communities disconnected from the waterfront, Florsheim said: “It’s all one, big project we have to look at holistically and try to get it right.”

Construction is expected to begin in February 2023 and last four seasons, the DOT said.

On-ramp work has been sped up ahead of a separate project from the removal of traffic signals on Route 9 and Main Street.  The two projects initially were wrapped into one; the latter, however, is in the process of being redesigned, Florsheim said.
 
The DOT will be scheduling a public comment session on the matter this winter, Hall said.

People can submit comments and questions on the project through Oct. 13 by emailing DOTProject82-316@ct.gov. For details, visit portal.ct.gov.