Apponaug by-pass project moving, but in low gear


Joe Walsh had an answer when he was mayor – Make Post Road one-way.

The state Department of Transportation thought that was a partial solution to the Apponaug traffic jam. They were willing to give it a six-month trial in 1977 and traffic – more than 24,000 vehicles daily – has been rotating around the village ever since.

Now, assured DOT officials, those days are numbered, even though there’s plenty of talk that there isn’t any money for highway projects and highway funding is grid locked in the House of Representatives.

“We’re still on target for the spring of 2013,” Vincent Palumbo, DOT managing engineer, said Tuesday.

With 90 percent of the project design to be completed by this June, Palumbo expects the DOT will be ready to solicit bids by this time next year. Between now and then, the department needs to finalize permitting and the acquisition of easements for 104 parcels of property.

And the money?

“The funding is in place,” Palumbo says.

To date, the state has spent about $16 million on right-of-way and engineering, plus another $600,000 on mill demolition and $600,000 to repair the Apponaug River [Hardig Brook] Bridge. The total cost of the project is projected to be $32 million.

Since 2002, the DOT has acquired several properties required to build the by-pass that will divert traffic from the village center, restoring two-way traffic on Veterans Memorial Drive and interconnect the village highways through a series of roundabouts. The roundabouts will replace conventional signalized intersections and will be smaller than a rotary. They are designed to allow traffic to continue flowing, at a reduced speed, better than a green light. Taking into consideration the time for red lights, the overall traffic flow is reported to be faster.

Speed, however, doesn’t appear to be on the side of building the project. The first of the properties acquired included the former Apponaug Mill complex that included People’s Moving and Storage. In 2009, the state acquired a 3-family dwelling on Meadow Street and part of a property on Gilbane Street. This week, the state finalized purchase of 155 Veterans Memorial Drive and is working with the business owners to find a suitable replacement site, according to DOT spokeswoman Heidi Gudmundson.

She reported that the department is in talks with Bank America to buy most of that property, including the building and Hollywood Properties that operates Hollywood Landscaping, between Lockhart Avenue and the Post Road Extension.

“There are approximately 104 more parcels that will be affected by the project. However, the majority will only be impacted by temporary construction easements to cut and match property to the new roadway, and by permitting easements to accommodate relocated utility poles and overhead wires,” Gudmundson said in an email.

Warwick Principal Planner Richard Crenca has been married to the project for more years than he can remember, but he sees an end in sight.

“I’m really looking forward to getting it done,” he said. “Hopefully everyone will be going in the right direction before I retire.”

The plan calls for the extension of Veterans Memorial Drive west across the mill site to connect with Centerville Road where it intersects with Toll Gate Road. Post Road traffic in that stretch from the four corners to the underpass will be narrowed to an eastbound lane with additional parking on both sides of the road and a lane designed for bikes.

Crenca said traffic is projected to drop to 4,000 vehicles daily.

“I think it is going to benefit businesses. Traffic will go through the village slower and drivers will be there for a reason.”

Crenca serves on a committee made up of village residents and business representatives that review by-pass plans at various stages during the project. With design plans approaching 90 percent completion, he anticipates the group will meet soon.

Palumbo said that the Department of Environmental Management has reviewed the wetlands permit and the DOT is looking to “maximize improvement of water quality” from storm water runoff into Apponaug Cove, Gorton Pond and Hardig Brook.

As part of the project, the mill water tower, a village landmark, will come down.

Palumbo said the tower would probably be one of the first things to go. He said that section of new highway connecting Veterans Memorial Drive to Centerville Road would be the first section of construction. The project is expected to take two construction seasons to complete, meaning the new traffic pattern would take effect in late 2015.

To date, based on rough estimates, we have spent approximately $16 million on right-of-way and engineering; $600,000 on the demolition of the mill; and $600,000 on repairs to the Apponaug River Bridge.


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