EDITORIAL: Meriden traffic triangle needs to be a priority

EDITORIAL: Meriden traffic triangle needs to be a priority

The proposed reconfiguration of the maddening, confusing and sometimes dangerous triangle where Interstates 91 and 691 and Route 15 come together in Meriden has been somewhere on the state’s transportation priority list for years.

In 2015 it was in the $1 million study phase. Now it’s in the $25 million design phase. So it’s clear that the state Department of Transportation, former Gov. Dannel Malloy and Gov. Ned Lamont have all seen that changes need to be made.

But when the triangle will get to the $290 million action phase is an open question.

Parts of the triangle have higher-than-normal crash rates, and it’s easy to see why:

♦ If you’re in Meriden and heading for Hartford, you can get onto 691 east from Broad Street, but then you have little time to get all the way over to the left to take the exit for 91 north. If traffic is heavy and the morning sun is in your eyes, that can be a harrowing maneuver. And if you can’t get out of the right lane, you’ll be heading for New Haven instead of Hartford.

♦ If you’re coming up Route 15 from Wallingford, you’ve got drivers from 91 coming in from the left, some of whom want to quickly move right to pick up 691 west, while most of the other cars are fighting to get into the far right lane for 91 north, some of them cutting in at the last possible moment. 

The heavily congested area moves 120,000 vehicles daily along I-91; 80,000 vehicles on I-691; and 60,000 vehicles on Route 15, according to the DOT.

In transportation language, DOT says the triangle forces “significant weaving maneuvers occurring at closely spaced on/off ramps” and suffers from “inadequate geometric elements such as shoulder widths, minimum radius, grade and vertical clearances, lane balance, etc.”

In plain English, it’s a mess.

The reconfiguration of the triangle “must be viewed as a necessity,” Lamont spokesman Max Reiss has said. And yet, it’s been on the state’s back burner for a long time. The money remains in limbo, along with other state highway projects, as lawmakers debate how to fund transportation improvements.

Lamont was unable to convince the General Assembly to go for electronic tolling on the Merritt Parkway and Interstates 84, 91 and 95 — a plan the administration has said could raise about $800 million annually by 2024 or 2025.

What does that leave?

♦ Bonding, although Lamont has the state on a “debt diet” right now. Still, “My hope is to sit down with both sides and reach some sort of a compromise,” he said

♦ Federal aid. “We've had very strong support from the Trump administration,” Lamont said on a recent visit to Meriden.

“If there is a way to unlock additional (federal) dollars, Gov. Lamont will find that and present it to the legislature,” said state Rep. Emil “Buddy” Altobello, D-Meriden.

Bottom line: Hope springs eternal, but reconfiguration of the Meriden triangle remains in limbo. We urge local lawmakers to keep pushing for this project, and we urge the governor to put it on the front burner.