The Unionville Traffic Committee welcomed more than 200 people to what may be its last meeting at the Community and Senior Center Thursday night.
Cars filled the complex’s parking lots and lined New Britain Avenue; some residents left because they couldn’t find a place to park. The meeting was the committee’s most widely attended after the town used the Everbridge notification system to contact residents.
The crowd came to hear and vote on six options for improving Unionville traffic, centered around the South Main Street-New Britain Avenue intersection, which committee members said is the lynchpin of village congestion. Committee spokesman, town councilor and lifetime Unionville resident John Vibert presented the options, which he said were crafted from public input given at charettes held in November 2010 and suggestions from the Save the Ville group that protested the committee’s proposed New Britain Avenue relocation plan.
“We’re here to listen,” Vibert said. “We’re not here to make decisions around plans tonight but to get your input.”
The committee, which was charged by the Town Council with gathering public input around solutions to the village’s traffic problems, had already received and vetted several hundred suggestions. At the council table in February, members moved to bring the committee’s work to a close, saying that the body would likely be unable to get residents to agree to a plan and that the discussion had narrowed into a debate with a small group of residents. Thursday’s meeting was intended to draw from the larger community and see if residents both of Unionville and Farmington could get behind a plan.
Vibert presented a range of options from doing nothing to replacing the Unionville bridge with a larger, three-lane bridge, though the first, he said, would leave the village facing a 1.3 percent yearly increase in traffic and the latter is unlikely to gain Department of Transportation approval.
Plans between incrementally increased in scope, impact and benefit, Vibert said. He weighed the plans effectiveness against a list of nine causes of congestion identified by residents at the charettes.
The second alternative was to widen South Main Street from the bridge to New Britain Avenue, creating a left-turn lane for southbound traffic; update traffic signal equipment and reconfigure the corners at Railroad Avenue so school buses would be able to turn down that road instead of blocking the intersection.
That plan would force removal of LA Styles Salon, he said.
Option 3 built on 2 by widening South Main Street from the bridge to New Britain Avenue, creating a dedicated turn lane for traffic coming down the hill and turning onto Railroad Avenue. That option also would reroute Rails to Trails down Railroad Avenue to eliminate safety concerns. Liquor Square would be removed.
Option 4 would widen South Main Street from the bridge to Depot Place, creating left-turn lanes for both south and northbound traffic. The plan would impact LA Styles Salon and Liquor Square.
The fifth option was the , which committee members say addresses all of the nine problems. Some in the crowd were surprised to see the plan, which was by a 4-3 Town Council vote in November 2011 and was the next month after the Save the Ville group gathered decrying the plan.
One Save the Ville member said former Town Council Chairman Mike Clark had assured the group the plan was dead and would no longer be considered. Another accused Vibert of overriding the sentiment of 1,700 people.
"The plan is still a viable alternative," Vibert responded. "What we're trying to do is present a full spectrum of options."
But from there the discussion disintegrated, with residents shouting, engaging in side conversations and talking over each other. Many stepped up to offer more ideas on how to fix traffic, though the committee had distributed a list of 88 ideas that had been considered and had addressed why a roundabout at Route 177 and Route 4 had been dismissed.
Vibert politely allowed audience members to comment, ask questions and even come up to a projected map for more than an hour.
Toward the end, Jay Sullivan, a New Horizons resident, thanked Vibert and Councilor Charlie Keniston for serving on the committee.
"I want to thank you and Charlie for putting up with this tonight," he said. "I hope that everyone here, though we disagree with each other, recognizes you have stepped up and done your public service, so thank you."
As the discussion began to devolve, people started leaving, grabbing ballots on the way out the door. Officials confirmed that some people filled out and submitted stacks of ballots before members realized the problem and began monitoring the process.
A hand vote showed the most support for Alternative 4, with slightly fewer hands raised for doing nothing and Alternative 3. The wider bridge received a few votes.
The committee will tabulate ballot results and meet again Wednesday morning. If the group sees support for one option, it will recommend it to the Town Council later this month.
"It was unfortunate that several people standing in the back of the room were taking multiple ballots, filling them out and turning them in," Keniston said after the meeting. "The one word I heard here tonight was 'rude, rude rude.' There was a lack of respect to give speakers the chance to be heard."
He did say he was pleased with the turnout, as did Vibert, who was still smiling at the end of the night.
"The turnout was tremendous. We had a lot of honest expression of opinion and we didn’t hear a lot of different ideas,” Vibert said. “However, I didn’t sense a strong consensus for any of the alternatives so it’s hard to imagine moving forward.”