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Study underway to reduce traffic along Route 161 in East Lyme & More News

 

East Lyme ― A study of the Route 161 corridor extending from the Flanders section of town to Main Street in Niantic reveals one of southeastern Connecticut’s busiest stretches, with traffic in the growing beach town threatening to get worse over time.

A report on current and existing conditions administered by the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments (SCCOG) backed up what drivers already know: There is anything but a free flow of traffic in certain spots at certain times of day.

The report is part of the Route 161 Corridor Study, a roughly year-and-a-half-long effort launched in March to come up with roadway improvements from Flanders Four Corners to where the road empties out onto Route 156 overlooking Niantic Bay.

The study is happening against the backdrop of a $142 million Interstate 95 project at exit 74 that went out to bid last week. Among the scheduled work is the replacement of the deteriorating Interstate 95 bridge to accommodate widening of Route 161 underneath and the addition of a new looping frontage road.

Construction on the interchange could start as early as January, according to bid specifications. But while that state project will cover about a half-mile of Route 161, the regional corridor study takes a wider look.

In addition to the highway area, key areas of congestion include East Lyme High School when school gets out and the approach to Roxbury Road during the weekday rush hour. The report said traffic lining up to turn onto Roxbury can stretch 660 feet back toward Flanders.

Jim Butler, the former SCCOG executive director now in semi-retirement as senior advisor for the project, said Monday that the report took into account data and plans related to the large-scale interchange project at exit 74.

“It’s informing the study, but it’s not part of the study because those decisions have already been made,” he said.

The Route 161 Corridor Study will rely on professionals and the public, according to Butler. Project manager Joe Rimiller of the engineering firm BETA Group oversaw the first informational and brainstorming session last week at the high school.

In terms of crashes, Rimiller said the firm looked at a three-year period from Jan. 1, 2019 to Dec. 31, 2021 to find 141 collisions with no fatalities on Route 161. The most dangerous area spanned an area between Boston Post Road and Industrial Park Road dominated by the interstate highway and numerous plazas.

SCCOG has a $250,000 project budget for the study. Eighty percent comes from the US Department of Transportation, 10% from the state DOT and 10% from the town.

The effort is a jumping-off point in a process intended to make the corridor less congested, safer, greener and more accessible, as well as more cost-effective for taxpayers.

Butler emphasized the importance of having a well-documented plan when it comes to securing grant funding for future transportation enhancements.

It’s especially important in light of recent transportation funding streams becoming available at the federal level, according to Butler.

“The DOT is going to want to see this type of background, detailed study done that presents the reasons for improvements being recommended,” he said.

The $1 trillion, bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law a year ago by President Joe Biden includes funding in areas including roads, bridges, ports, rail transit, and electric vehicles. The Associated Press reports there will be approximately $5.38 billion coming to Connecticut from the bill over the next five years.

The corridor study process going forward will focus on developing a draft of prioritized recommendations with cost estimates and a schedule, according to the report. The final “conceptual plan” should be ready for public comment in late spring.

Butler said last week’s informational session drew roughly three dozen people to share their thoughts on what works and doesn’t work along Route 161.

The largest contingent of attendees came from the residential-heavy areas from roughly the middle of the targeted area to downtown Niantic, according to the SCCOG advisor.

“They’re interested in their access into and out of their residential developments, and rightfully so,” he said. “As traffic increases on that road, especially during peak summer hours, it’s increasingly difficult and potentially more dangerous for them to enter and exit their own streets and their own driveways.”

Residents shared thoughts on traffic signals, timing and other ways to improve the situation. He said one person brought up the idea of roundabouts as a potential solution, while another made a joking reference to the recently-halted plan to install six of the traffic circles in a one-mile stretch on Route 82 in Norwich.

There is no talk of roundabouts in the report, but Butler said input from the public is key to the process.

“Everything’s on the table right now,” he said. “A consultant will look at every idea.”

The SCCOG is also conducting a study of Route 32 in New London from Williams Street to Benham Avenue. The area includes access to Connecticut College, the United States Coast Guard Academy and the Lyman Allyn Art Museum. A public informational session on that study will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, 625 Williams St.

Study underway to reduce traffic along Route 161 in East Lyme

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Study underway to reduce traffic along Route 161 in East Lyme

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Study underway to reduce traffic along Route 161 in East Lyme

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