Bethel parents and school bus drivers have a new route to look forward to. Three roads and a bridge, at the complicated corner of Whittlesey Drive, Plumtrees Rd and Walnut Hill, will be reworked into a four-way intersection. The project will be put out to bid in 2013.
While that may still seem a long way away, First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker said the project has come up and been shelved several times over close to 12 years. “In the late 1990's, the state was set to repair the bridge, and all they were going to do was widen it,” he said.
However a new design was implemented, and once the bridge was going to be moved, Knickerbocker said there would have to “a whole new design, which took several years.”
Knickerbocker said it has become a saga to get the bridge completed. “There would have been problems repairing the culvert at the difficult intersection, so Judy Novachek had the town redesign it.”
Knickerbocker said that the original bridge could have been replaced in the same form quite easily, but, he added, "Mrs. Novachek decided, correctly, that simply replacing the bridge in its current configuration would do nothing to alleviate the rush hour traffic congestion."
The new intersection will have Whittlesey Lane bend to the right and Walnut Hill will bend to the left. (See the plans in the gallery.) The roads will connect, alleviating the number of turns a driver would have to make coming out of the school grounds and heading to Walnut Hill.
“They had to get permits from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, from the fisheries, Inland Wetlands, Department of Transportation; I think even the Army Corp of Engineers, because there are numerous biological and archeological studies,” Knickerbocker said.
Looking over the proposed plans, Bill Dwinells, staff civil engineer for the town, said, “That is an active trout stream and there are limits to when you can work in the stream bed. Once they are spawning or hatching, you can’t be working near the water.”
Dwinnells said that the studies, unable to be obtained through the DEEP at this time, checked the stream and culvert for trout and salamanders that migrate upstream.
“We had to change the slope for box turtles, and before you even lift the shovel, the State Archeologist has to check to make sure there are no traces of Native American remains or other historical arifacts,” Knickerbocker said.
While it may seem like an awful lot of trouble just to reroute an intersection, the need was underscored by bus driver Kathy DeRoin, who said maneuvering the turns in a school bus from Whittlesey to Plumtrees to Walnut Hill is very difficult, “Especially in the winter.”
Sherry Gonzalez, mother of a kindergartener who used to attend St. Mary’s School, said, “I was late one morning, it was about 7:15 am, and the traffic was backed up forever.”
The new intersection is expected to resolve traffic issues and even help out the creatures who live near the stream. The new culvert will have the bottom open to the stream to allow the trout to pass through, while the other side is higher, to allow animals to pass under the bridge without having to cross the road. Dwinells said the old culvert was like that also, “So we have to do it that way again.”
Funding for the project is a partnership with the state reimbursing the town, who will do the engineering and design, Dwinnells said.
Knickerbocker said that all of the studies are now complete and the town has a green light to begin. "We are now awaiting the final engineering approvals from state Department of Transportation and for the state bonding commission to approve the funds," he said.
Construction is expected to begin in 2013, according to Knickerbocker.