Is The Road Diet Good For Route 5?

Chris Rutledge

On Monday, June 12th, representatives from the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CT DOT) gave a presentation at Enfield Town Hall describing a proposed road construction project for the northern part of Route 5 (Enfield St. – for those interested in watching the presentation, it is available on the Enfield Television YouTube Channel). The project would encompass a 1.6-mile section of Route 5 from Grant Ave. to University Place. This section would be converted from a 4-lane road to a 2-lane road with a center turning lane and a wider shoulder to be used as a bicycle lane. In their presentation, representatives from CT DOT described their analysis of traffic on this stretch of road touted various congestion and safety benefits realized from similar road conversion projects. Additionally, members of the community had the opportunity to ask questions and express concerns.

Those in attendance expressed a number of concerns about the project. Some residents wondered how this construction would be paid for (perhaps due to recent reports of funds being diverted from the State’s Special Transportation Fund). In response, CT DOT said the funds were allocated but were not yet available.

Another concern of many present involved road congestion. People wondered if traffic would increase when drivers decide to use Route 5 instead of paying tolls. Also, those listening were reminded of what happens when there is an accident on the northern part of 91. Traffic often diverts to local roads turning Route 5 into the proverbial parking lot. The CT DOT replied, with the help of an audience member who was a transportation engineer by profession, by citing numerous studies as how road lane conversions of this nature actually help traffic by creating dedicated travel vs. turning lanes.

One resident, an avid runner and cyclist, was encouraged by the changes. In addition to noting how this project will “connect fragmented neighborhoods that are not connected for multi-modal transportation options”, she welcomed the addition of eight-feet of shoulders as a benefit for bicycling and pedestrians. Noting the dangers of children riding their bikes on the sidewalk, “drivers who are pulling in and out of driveways are not paying attention to the sidewalk necessarily. They’re paying attention to the road.”

Though CT DOT seemed well-prepared to answer most posed questions, one area was left unresolved. A number of school bus drivers voiced their concerns over impacts to travel time and student safety. With 20 buses traveling that section of Route 5, one driver stated, “We will be very delayed getting our children home.” After commenting how buses travel that section for 3 hours in the morning, 2 to 3 hours in the afternoon and various other trips throughout the day, representatives from CT DOT seemed surprised about the volume of bus traffic. Additionally, during conversations after the presentation a number of people wondered if dropping to one lane each way would exacerbate the issue of drivers passing stopped school buses.

As with any decision there will be pros and cons. These are what we, as a town, and our elected officials have to weigh. Will the conversion to one-lane each way with a middle turning lane be a bane or boon to businesses on the Route 5 corridor? Will the project actually relieve congestion, or will the traffic get worse if tolls come to 91 or when an accident on 91 diverts more cars and trucks to Route 5? Will the addition of bicycle lanes make the road safer for pedestrians and cyclists? And how will this project impact traffic when vehicles (like school buses and garbage trucks) have to make frequent stops? If you have an opinion on the matter, feel free to write your Town Councilors or speak during public comments at a Town Council meeting. At the end of the day, as stated by CT DOT, the project will only move forward if approved by our Town. So let your voice be heard and help our elected officials know where you stand and what you think will be best for Route 5.

Written By Chris Rutledge
Previously published in the Enfield Press
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