The traffic congestion associated with paving on the Merritt Parkway and the Wilbur Cross Parkway this past summer may be an indicator of what motorists will have to expect once the state starts rehabilitating the Heroes Tunnel through West Rock Ridge. However, the project is still in the planning phases and not expected to actually start until 2022.
In fact, although the engineers working on the project have defined several options, they have not settled on the preferred option, said David Cutler, supervising project engineer. His presentation in Hamden on October 18 was part of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) update for residents, held at the Hamden Memorial Town Hall. A year ago Cutler and his fellow engineers were in Woodbridge for a similar scoping hearing.
At the same time the DOT is planning to start several improvements along Litchfield Turnpike at Exit 59 in Woodbridge to ease access to and from the parkway. Construction is slated to start in spring of 2018, said Project Manager Scott Bushee who was in attendance at the tunnel hearing in Hamden. He said he plans to hold an informational meeting for the public in Woodbridge prior to construction, possibly in March.
The project encompasses the following:
- widening of Litchfield Turnpike by a few feet on both sides, from Lucy Street down to the Whalley Avenue;
- widening of exit ramps from both the southbound and northbound sides; also a new traffic signal where the northbound exit ramp meets Route 69;
- at Pond Lily Road, where motorists have to cross oncoming traffic to access the on-ramp, a Stop sign for the oncoming traffic will allow smoother access to the parkway. Further down, where Pond Lily ends in Litchfield Turnpike, a small raised island will prevent traffic coming from Hamden to turn left onto the turnpike and create a back-up.; and
- a new sidewalk will allow pedestrian traffic along Litchfield Turnpike, all the way from Whalley Avenue to Lucy Street, first on the east side, then connecting by a crosswalk to the westerly side and continuing further north.
The two-season construction project is estimated to cost $3.5 million, paid for by federal and state funds, and is designed to provide temporary relief for the highly congested area while more extensive plans are being developed to possibly reconfigure on- and off-ramps and provide extended acceleration and deceleration lanes.
A 2009 study found the Heroes Tunnel to be in poor condition, caused largely by ground water infiltration. The tunnel opened in 1949 and today is used by some 77,000 vehicles every day. Due to its age, it does not comply with today’s safety standards, with narrow shoulders, insufficient ventilation and lack of emergency access. It is not considered a serious safety issue, Cutler assured those in the audience. Even so, there is significant deterioration, in particular of the concrete lining, which is being corroded by water penetration and many freeze-and-thaw cycles it is exposed to. The concrete is chipping away, leaving the rebar exposed in some areas.
“We are looking at construction of a new bypass [barrel], either temporary or not,” Cutler said. Environmental impact studies as well as geological exploration are the next step to determine the preferred alternative, Cutler said. Work for this may require some night-time traffic crossovers come April, he said.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent