Text by Don Stacom, Hartford Courant; video by Angelica Spanos, Fox CT
Monday appears to be the end of the line for the Amtrak pedestrian crossing at Flower Street in Hartford.
Contractors building the CTfastrak busway will close off the crossing permanently, the state transportation department announced. Signs will direct pedestrian traffic to a temporary detour route.
The closing has been delayed repeatedly because of community opposition, but the DOT has warned since late spring that it would have to shut down the crossing soon to accommodate the next phase of busway construction.
Starting Monday, walkers and bicyclists will take an east-west detour linking Flower and Broad streets, running roughly parallel to the Amtrak line and beneath the I-84 overpass, the DOT said. For now, they’ll use a fenced-off pathway just north of the tracks. The DOT has posted a rendering at http://tinyurl.com/klbau7y.
By Thanksgiving, the DOT expects to complete a permanent, more elaborate path in the same general area that will be paved, landscaped and lighted. It will take a meandering course to allow a gentle slope for wheelchair users and people with walkers.
Neighborhood organizations, bicycle advocacy groups and a handful of local merchants campaigned for more than a year to keep the Flower Street crossing open, saying it’s a popular link between two sections of the city that have been separated since I-84 was built. Workers from the insurance headquarters and office buildings on Farmington Avenue use the route in the warm weather for a lunchtime walk, and residents from the area south of Capitol Avenue use it as a shortcut toward downtown.
Last spring, Mayor Pedro Segarra’s administration reached a deal with the state to withdraw official city opposition to the shutdown. That appeared to clear the way for the DOT to abandon its proposal to build a $4 million set of switchback ramps as a pedestrian overpass at Flower; instead, it would just build the detour pathway. Segarra wanted the state to apply the $4 million toward other major construction planned in and around downtown.
But a DOT administrative hearing officer rejected her own agency’s proposal to get by with just the detour pathway. Judith Almeida, who’d previously allowed the DOT to shut off car and truck traffic across the tracks at Flower Street, issued an order that the agency must build the setback ramps — called an “up and over” bridge — if it shuts down pedestrian access.
“Closing this crossing without providing another similarly located access is not in anyone’s best interest,” Almeida wrote in July. “Providing a pathway which is longer in route or more dangerous is not an acceptable answer.”
The DOT has said an up-and-over bridge would take two to three years from design to completion. It met with residents this summer to talk about options, but there was no immediate selection of a bridge design nor a schedule for construction.
The busway is being built alongside the Amtrak line, and engineers say there’s no safe way to allow pedestrians at Flower Street to cross at grade level. But Almeida’s decision emphasized that the detour to Broad Street creates potential hazards of its own.