Stand in the middle of the new section of Route 72 as it crosses Lincoln Avenue and it looks like the road is almost done.
Though there’s still a pile of dirt at the end of the existing expressway and construction crews swarming to lay pavement and build drainage, officials say that a portion of the new boulevard between Plainville and Central Street could open this fall.
But it’s not clear whether it will.
“I don’t see any advantage to doing that,” Mayor Art Ward said.
The $63 million project [see map here] will create a 2.4-mile, four lane road between the end of the expressway and Riverside Avenue. It is slated to open in the fall of 2010.
Ward told state transportation officials recently that opening a short section of the eastern portion of the new road early “will have serious adverse impacts that far outweigh any gains.Ward said that he doesn’t want to see cars heading west with the option of getting off only on Lincoln or Central because neither street is capable of handling the volume of cars likely to use them.
Lincoln Avenue, which runs between the O’Brien Funeral Home and Greene-Hills School, doesn’t have a traffic light on the Pine Street.
Traffic heading north on Central Street toward Forestville’s center is not allowed to turn left because a traffic island blocks the way, forcing drivers there to head only east, back toward Plainville.
State Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat and former mayor, said that he’s concerned that opening the short stretch might cause problems that would “create a sour taste” among the public about a project that ought to relieve congestion when it’s all done next year.
“After all this work, all this money,” Nicastro said, he doesn’t want the new road “to start off on the wrong foot.”
When the road is finished, the mayor said, it will offer the community “a whole different perspective” on transportation within the city, opening the possibility to the revival of Riverside Avenue as well as Forestville’s struggling commercial center.
After waiting for a half a century to get the road built, Ward said, there’s no reason to rush it now.
There’s more benefit to the community to open the road next year, Ward said.
Nicastro said he plans to talk soon with state transportation officials to find out if there is a way to alleviate the concerns Ward raised. If there are, he said, that would be fine.
But, Nicastro said, after “fighting like mad” for many years to have the road built, it would be best to make sure it opens under the best possible circumstances so everyone can see its benefits.
“It’s going to solve a major problem” that has hurt Bristol for a half century, Nicastro said.
“We want to get this thing done and moving as quickly as possible,” Nicastro said, but also to do it right.
The new road features a sunken, boulevard-type street that slices through a residential section of Forestville between Route 372 in Plainville and Todd Street. A raised median will separate the road.
After that section, the four-lane road will follow the existing right of way on Pine Street before cutting north behind Dunkin’ Donuts to align with Riverside Avenue.
State officials said the Pine Street section of the project will be done next year.
The new road will end at Middle Street after crossing a new bridge that’s under construction across the Pequabuck River about a quarter of a mile east of the intersection with Riverside.
Ten intersections with traffic lights will be included along the new road.
The New Britain-based Manafort Brothers got the construction contract in August 2007 to carry out the work for nearly $40 million. It was delayed 16 months by problems getting utilities moved, officials said.
A long road to completion
As one of the few cities its size in the nation without a four-lane highway, Bristol has pushed for one since the 1950s.
For decades, plans called for a limited-access superhighway that would have swung through Forestville, cut south of downtown and ultimately linked up with Route 8 near Thomaston.
The plan spurred widespread opposition within the community, particularly in neighborhoods that faced devastation, and politicians could never settle on a single scheme.
Twenty years ago, the state pulled the plug on the increasingly costly plan, leaving few options.
But former state Rep. Kosta Diamantis, a Bristol Democrat, pumped life back into it with a compromise proposal in 1993 that led to the approval of a four-lane road through Forestville.
Most politicians in the city, with strong urging from the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce, rallied behind the project.
Stretch Norton, a former mayor, led the opposition, insisting the new road would do nothing to relieve congestion. He said it will simply shift the tie-ups to Middle Street, without speeding up the commute for most drivers.
Supporters said that traffic studies showed the project would help -- and pointed to the advantage of having an easy to follow path from the highway to downtown.
Mayor Art Ward said that downtown’s revitalization hinges on the successful completion of the road.
After so many years of feuding and delay, “it’ll be nice to get it open,” the mayor said.
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