New Haven's Downtown Crossing: Progress Comes at a Price

Traffic is a reality in any urban center, and New Haven is no exception. But right now, one area of the Elm City is choked like never before.

Angela Dechello has worked in New Haven for 20 years. She commutes and parks in the Temple Medical Garage every day.

"I'm not complaining about city traffic. That's not the issue. The issue is the safety that I have coming out of this garage. It's easy to get in, but hard to get out," said the North Haven resident.

What's changed here on North Frontage Road, now known at MLK Boulevard, is the increased volume of cars, trucks and 18-wheelers entering the city from Interstates 91 and 95 by way of Route 34.

Economic Development Administrator Mike Piscitelli said it's a side effect of the first phase of the "Downtown Crossing" project, a decade-long undertaking aimed at re-knitting the city's vibrant medical and central business districts.

"In this particular area we've closed three exit ramps," said Piscitelli.

In 2007, the city commissioned a traffic study that showed 4,500 vehicles move through MLK Boulevard from Church Street to College Street at peak morning rush hour.

The experts projected a 33 percent increase to 6,000 vehicles along that same stretch, with the addition of Gateway Community College downtown and those closed exit ramps. The numbers are even higher for the evening rush hour.

Doug Hausladen, New Haven's director of Traffic, Transportation and Parking, said this is an area of focus.

"What we have is a gigantic demand every morning for 40,000 jobs in a very small area," said Hausladen.

The city added a travel lane to help handle the increased load here. At one point, a temporary traffic light was in place, but that was short-lived. Now, people who park in the Temple Street, Temple Medical and Gateway College garages say they're at their wit's end.

"If you hit it at the right time, you could be waiting 15 to 20 minutes in line going up into the garage trying to exit here," said New Haven resident Virginia Sharene.

Dechello said exiting her garage after work has become an anxiety-producing ordeal.

"I work right upstairs. I look out the window right before I get ready to leave to decide... Am I up to it today? You have to psych yourself up," Dechello said.

To make matters worse, drivers coming from the garages or Temple Street have to cross three lanes of traffic to to get back to the interstates.

Dechello took the Troubleshooters along for the rush hour ride.

"You have to gun it. You have to wait for an opportunity when you might have enough time to zoom across four lanes to get to the light if you want to take a left, and it's dangerous," she said.

The city is well aware of the issues arising out of the new traffic pattern that's still a work in progress, but Mike Piscitelli said drivers do have alternate routes on George Street for Temple Street and Temple Medical garage to ease the congestion on MLK Boulevard.

The city's traffic department receives a fair number of complaints and staffers monitor conditions in real time.

"We take all calls seriously, go out and take a look and if there are minor modifications we can make to ease interim conditions, we do that," said Piscitelli.

But these interim conditions look to last for quite some time. The city estimates the Downtown Crossing project won't be buttoned up for five years or more. Phase one is slated for completion late this year.

As a result, Dechello and the hundreds of others who park here every day are bracing for several more months of the same headaches. In the long run, city officials are confident that people who live and work here will come to appreciate a new truly inter-connected New Haven.

City officials said that at the tail end of phase one, new service roads will open that will greatly alleviate traffic along that stretch of MLK Boulevard.

Officials are trying to educate drivers about their options to encourage them to enter the city directly off of I-91 and I-95, but for people who've been commuting in and out of New Haven for years, old habits die hard.

Contact Us