City advances Prospect Street traffic plans

The New Haven City Services and Environmental Policy committee on Thursday passed proposals to improve traffic safety around the Sachem and Prospect streets intersection and to install sensor-equipped traffic lights.

There is an increased risk of motor-vehicle accidents on Sachem and Prospect streets because they do not intersect at 90-degree angles, City Engineer Richard Miller said. There would have to be a significant amount of roadwork done on Prospect to remedy the problem, he said, adding that the city and Yale would also need to exchange some property adjacent to the intersection so that the construction takes place on city land.

“Yale agrees this is the right thing to do,” Miller said. “We can take land from Yale wherever we have to [for this project].”

If the plan is approved, Miller said it would improve public safety and traffic flow around the intersection.

Still, two committee members said they are not sure the project is feasible because the work would have to be done in the midst of other infrastructure projects already slated for Prospect Street. More than four major building projects — including Yale’s two new residential colleges and the new School of Management campus — have been planned for Prospect and the surrounding area. As a result, Ward 12 Alderman Gerald Antunes said he questions the initiative’s timeliness.

Asked by Committee Chair and Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 how his proposal would “fit with the new Yale colleges,” Miller said it takes into account Yale’s development plans.

Ultimately, the committee passed the proposal unanimously and sent it to the full Board of Aldermen for approval.

The committee also discussed plans to install sensor-equipped traffic lights at 14 city intersections, including four on Chapel Street and four on Prospect Street. The new traffic signals would sense traffic volume and speed on all sides of the intersection and change signals to minimize traffic inefficiencies, said New Haven Traffic Project Engineer Bijan Notghi.

Notghi said the project is expected to cost approximately $4 million and that the city has received that amount in federal and state grant, adding that installation could begin as early as spring 2011.

But Antunes said he is concerned about how drivers would behave if they expected signals to change for them during times when traffic is light.

Notghi said that if the new signals are installed, drivers speeding up because they expect consistently green lights “may beat one or two lights,” but by the time they reach the third, the signals will have turned red to reduce traffic speed.

After an approximately 10-minute debate on the system’s merits, the committee passed the proposal unanimously.

The committee also named two street corners after influential New Haven residents and voted to allow Yale-New Haven Hospital to further develop its plans for a hotel. The committee will next convene in October at a date to be determined.

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