Residents oppose plans to reopen Vergason Avenue in Norwich to business park traffic

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Norwich — Several Vergason Avenue residents appealed to the City Council on Monday to cancel an experiment to reopen a long-closed intersection with Connecticut Avenue that would link the residential road to the Norwich business park.

The city’s public works department presented the idea to city council in August to test remove a barrier at the end of Connecticut Avenue that blocks traffic from the business park to Vergason Avenue. At the time, Director of Public Works Patrick McLaughlin said the move would make it easier to clear snow from the narrow, hilly Vergason Avenue.

Public works officials provided an update on the city council’s public works and capital improvements committee ahead of Monday’s council meeting.

City Engineer Brian Long said Tuesday the department plans to count traffic for a week to gauge current traffic on Vergason Avenue, then remove the Connecticut Avenue gate and count traffic for several weeks to assess the change of use.

Long said he expects it will be a while before people realize the road is open, so testing would last long after the road reopens.

The board did not vote on any proposal to open the Connecticut-Vergason gate. Long said the department plans to move forward with the temporary opening and will only seek council approval if a plan to permanently open the road is proposed.

Mayor Peter Nystrom, however, said Tuesday he believed any reopening, however temporary, would require council approval. Nystrom said he would consider whether Public Works plans to reduce brush on the narrow road and improve sightlines before reopening the road.

Several Vergason Avenue residents who spoke during public comments on Monday opposed opening the connection to the business park. They cited safety issues, increased traffic and speeding. The city council closed the road in 1986 to direct commercial traffic down Connecticut Avenue and a traffic light at the West Town Street intersection at the park entrance.

Residents said that in some places the road was too narrow for a car and a school bus to pass in opposite directions. Residents know the road and the blind spots, but new drivers leaving work looking for a faster route to West Town Street don’t know the dangerous spots.

“It’s a road that has a lot of kids,” said Earl Colella of 130 Vergason Ave. “A lot of people are going up and down this road. The road is very narrow. There are a few points on the road where you cannot pass two cars. Someone has to stop.

He said opening up the road would increase the risk of a child or pet being hit by a car. He said that before the city can reopen the road, it would have to paint a yellow stripe down the center to mark the lanes and the road would have to be widened in places. Colella said he was going to the VFW post on Connecticut Avenue and the Veterans Rally Point on Stott Avenue, so opening the road would be more convenient for him, but he always opposed the move.

Jim Langan of 185 Vergason Avenue said the road was closed in 1986, “for very considered reasons”, due to accidents and hazards. He said if it helped the city clear snow, the public works department could install a larger gate that could be opened in the winter for impending storms.

Rebecca Pryor of 58 Vergason Ave. said she was speaking for herself and several neighbors against reopening the road.

“We have a very narrow road, lots of curves, it’s hard enough to see out of my driveway, I always have to be very careful,” she said. “Having more through traffic, I think, is dangerous.”

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