New London intersection update aimed at keeping car, bus and ferry traffic flowing

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May 4—NEW LONDON — When it comes to traffic flow, it doesn't get much more complicated than a downtown intersection that must take into account cars, buses, trains and ferry passengers.

The intersection of Water Street and Governor Winthrop Boulevard has for weeks been a construction site with workers replacing wiring, vaulting and other components of what Director of Public Works Brian Sear called a traffic signal system that's long overdue for improvements.

"If there was ever a traffic signal failure there, it would be catastrophic," he said. "The existing equipment — 1980s technology ― is very old, and they don't make replacement parts anymore."

The city is deep into an $891,000 signal replacement project first discussed six years ago that is designed to keep traffic leaving the city circulating smoothly. The work, being handled by Colonna Concrete & Asphalt Paving, will include the replacement of outdated intersection signal lights — which cost $250,000 each ― with modern versions that feature anti-glare technology.

"We're also replacing the poles the lights hang on with lower reinforced concrete posts that make it easier for pedestrians and drivers to see the lights," Sear said. "Approaches will be reconfigured for ADA compliance with greater widths and better grades, and we're adding sidewalks on the ferry side of the street."

The one-way Water Street is a main city artery sending vehicles out of the city and towards the Interstate 95 ramps, as well as to the heavily traveled Route 32 corridor.

In addition to Governor Winthrop Boulevard intersection traffic, vehicles entering and exiting the nearby ferry terminal crisscross Water Street, which runs parallel to Amtrak railroad tracks. Local transit buses also regularly idle in the far-right lane of the street leading to frequent lane switches by impatient commuters.

The signal upgrade work, expected to be complete before Memorial Day, is partially funded by a $391,000 state Community Connectivity Grant, with the remainder paid with city infrastructure funds.

One thing that won't change is the timing of the lights. Sear said the city years ago worked with Cross Sound Ferry officials to develop a stop signal cycle that gave a level of priority to the lines of vehicles disembarking from the ferries.

Sear said "low-tech" sensors triggered by exiting ferry vehicles prompt a signal change. A different alert system is used when an oncoming train is detected to bar traffic from crossing tracks.

"The reason we chose that intersection for an upgrade with state-of-the-art equipment is the presence of the ferry and the essential need to keep traffic moving in-and-out quickly and safely," Sear said. "And that's even more important with (National Coast Guard Museum) coming in."

Stanley Mickus, spokesman for the Cross Sound Ferry, said the ferry area is a bustling area with several excursion points filled with pedestrians, taxis and ride-share vehicles.

"(Mayor Michael Passero) and the city have been great partners in working with us with our traffic concerns," Mickus said.

The project has led to a series of lane closures that can shift even during the course of a few hours. At one point on Tuesday morning, the street's far left lane was shuttered only to re-open to allow workers to shutter the extreme right lane.

Sear said the old signal system will remain in place until the replacement components are installed, tested and cleared for regular use.

j.penney@theday.com