Traffic adds to center debate

Yale-New Haven Hospital officials are questioning a memo submitted to the Board of Aldermen by the New Haven Department of Traffic and Parking regarding traffic congestion that the hospital’s planned cancer center is expected to draw.

The memo, submitted to the Board last week, stated that the hospital’s strategies for accommodating potential traffic that would be caused by the center are inadequate, said Paul Wessel, director of the Department of Traffic and Parking. Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield said the Board of Aldermen will discuss the traffic issue when they debate other community issues surrounding the construction of the cancer center.

“It’s part of the package,” he said. “People are going to be concerned about what the parking situation is over there.”

The city’s traffic department initially submitted a memo in late September to the Board of Aldermen suggesting certain improvements to the existing traffic lights and requesting further changes to the proposed design to manage the flow of traffic in the area, Wessel said. The new memo addresses prospective data on traffic submitted by Yale-New Haven and finds the hospital’s solutions to the traffic problems inadequate.

Yale-New Haven spokesman Vincent Petrini said the hospital had proposed adding a traffic circle at the eastern end of the proposed complex this past summer, allowing direct access to Route 34. He said the November memo did not address the effects of this potential solution or the hospital’s plan to construct a loading dock in the cancer center that would divert truck traffic from local streets onto the traffic circle.

“The memo is extremely disappointing,” Petrini said. “It fails to consider many of the traffic and parking mitigation strategies we’ve proposed to the city.”

But Wessel said that while the data presented in Yale-New Haven’s study was valid, their solutions still fail to address the potential traffic congestion apparent in the data. He said the current traffic lights need to be replaced with lights that monitor the flow of traffic and adjust their timing appropriately.

“We did not find that the mitigation they proposed solved the problem,” Wessel said. “Their system could not handle the increased volume of traffic.”

The traffic department has met regularly and worked closely with Yale-New Haven over the past year to discuss and develop its plans for mitigating the expected increase in traffic, he said.

Anstress Farwell, the president of the New Haven Urban Design League, said she thinks both the traffic and parking department and Yale-New Haven should reconsider their plans for handling the potential traffic congestion issues.

Farwell said the UDL has proposed a switch from the outdated plan to build parking garages in the cancer center complex to a plan to develop mass-transit solutions for employees and patients commuting to and from the new center. The $3-4 million that would be spent on modern traffic lights under the department’s current proposal, she said, should instead be spent on constructing a mass transit system, which would reduce pollution and promote healthy living. Farwell also said she thinks Yale-New Haven should consider traffic and parking issues as part of its mission to promote public health.

Petrini said hospital officials are now concerned about the department’s memo along with other recent events which have continued to delay the Board of Aldermen’s approval of the center’s construction.

“This is critical to the city, it’s critical to the state, and it’s absolutely critical to the patients we serve,” Petrini said.

The traffic department’s report, Wessel said, will be one of the factors that the Board will consider in when it votes on whether or not to approve the center’s construction.

“There’s been a lot of heat and not much light,” he said. “We tried to shed a little light on the subject.”

Farwell said she would like the parties concerned with the center’s construction to look at the issue objectively and manage the issues in a focused manner independent of other colluding factors.

“With the new economic development chief [and] the battle on the Board of Alderman over the new president … there’s so many balls in the air that it’s been hard to get people to focus on this practical issue,” she said. “It would be a great setback not to deal with this issue in a more progressive manner.”

Wessel said his department will continue to work with the hospital to address strategies for managing the proposed increase in traffic.

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