MIDDLETOWN – By the end of 2026, a new free-flowing on-ramp will replace the dangerous stop-and-go interchange of Route 17 onto northbound Route 9 near the riverfront.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation said a long-awaited $54 million reconfiguration of the notorious intersection will center around a new bridge to carry Route 9 over Union Street, complete with an additional northbound acceleration lane that will allow Route 17 traffic to merge onto the highway without having to stop first at a stop sign.
The project has not been bid yet, with an advertisement planned for next month – but construction is projected to begin in the spring of 2023 with the reconfiguration of the Route 17-Main Street Extension interchange, and wrap up in fall 2026 with the construction of the new bridge on Route 9, Connecticut DOT engineer Stephen Hall said during a virtual informational meeting Thursday night.
The current configuration – where drivers merging from Route 17 are forced to stop, look over their shoulder to find a gap in highway traffic, and accelerate in about 100 feet to merge onto Route 9 – caused 340 crashes between 2018 and 2020, including 332 rear-end collisions, Hall said.
Of those crashes, 244 occurred at the stop sign, including 49 crashes that resulted in injuries. It was the second-worst interchange in the state for several years, Hall said.
The difference in speed between the 55 m.p.h. highway traffic and the stopped cars looking to merge can lead to more injuries – but Hall said the main cause of crashes is that drivers have to look behind them to find a gap, and accelerate to fit into a gap without looking ahead to see if the car in front of them has already merged, causing a rear-end collision.
Adding a new lane on the Route 9 bridge immediately north of the interchange will give vehicles a much longer acceleration lane – without a stop sign – that will make merging easier and safer, Hall said.
What else does the project involve?
Construction on the Route 9 bridge isn’t actually expected to start until the winter of 2023 – Hall said construction will be year-round to allow it to be completed sooner. In the spring, construction would begin at the interchange of Route 17 and Main Street Extension.
The southbound Route 17 onramp will be shifted to align with the offramp onto Main Street Extension so a traffic light can be installed. Next, the contractor will rehabilitate the Route 17 “flyover” bridge that carries traffic to the Route 9 interchange – including a reconfiguration of the lanes meant to simplify the “weave” of ramps there, Hall said.
Once that is all completed, the construction on the Route 9 bridge will begin – a three stage process that will take more than two years to complete – from winter 2023 to spring 2026. There will be two lanes open in each direction throughout the construction, but DOT engineer Seth Burgess said it will cause “large impacts” to the public, which will require constant communication and coordination.
The Route 17-Main Street Extension segments need to be completed first because DOT expects the new Route 9 on-ramp will divert 6,500 more vehicles each day into the interchange. Currently, drivers often take Union Street to Harbor Drive to get onto Route 9.
That Harbor Drive on-ramp will be closed, shifting traffic away from the short street that gives access to the former Canoe Club and the center of Middletown’s riverfront redevelopment plans, and onto the redesigned Route 17 interchange, Hall said.
The project also includes new sidewalks on the west side of Main Street Extension to improve access to Middlesex Hospital, especially for employees who park on the street, as well as new sidewalks on Union Street at the railroad crossing, to improve access to the riverfront, Hall said