The National Weather Service recently confirmed that the summer of 2010 was the hottest in state history due to the number of days a southwesterly airflow brought up warm air from the south. This should sound familiar to anyone traveling near the construction zones in the South End these past few weeks. While the temperature might be dropping now that summer is officially over, things are getting heated in the Construction Triangle between West Broad Street, Main Street, and Linden Avenue.
The improvements to the sewer lines in this area are critically important; after a storm, drivers in this area had to take an impromptu Boston Duck Tour without the amphibious car. Town officials are to be commended for getting this project underway. Unfortunately, progress is not painless. In this case, the Construction Triangle is the place where traffic goes to die. Trying to get to the West Broad I-95 entry ramp is like trying to steer a cruise ship through the Panama Canal. Traffic lights that serve as the locks orchestrate the painfully slow shuffle of cars as they line up for hundreds of yards around California Street and Broadbridge Avenue.
While negotiating the roundabout off Exit 32 has always been an adventure, it has now been reduced to a traffic meat grinder, forcing rush hour drivers to slow from 55 (well, in theory, anyway) to a full stop a mere forty yards from the line of cars trying to enter the traffic circle. Going north on West Broad from Main Street is an exercise in negotiation. Some try desperately to establish eye contact with the driver merging next to them. Others take advantage of open windows, shouting out a plea to be let in. Others play a more dangerous game, nudging their cars into traffic until there’s no choice but to let them in. This game is followed by a round of, “How quickly can I shut my car window so as not to hear them yelling behind me at the light?”
The worst part of this is the hit to the merchants whose businesses must ride out the construction. Some owners saw business decline as much as 75% at the Main Street restaurants inside the Triangle, mostly because people have assumed these places were closed during construction. Others think them inaccessible, and yet only the northbound lane is closed. There’s never been a better time to try these places out. The Cumberland Farms gas station at the corner of West Broad and Linden is its busiest in the state, yet the lot does not appear as full as drivers are routinely orphaned in its exit lane as they struggle to get back into traffic.
I’ve seen the best and worst of my neighbors as I navigate the Triangle. While some bang their steering wheels and scream at every perceived injustice inflicted upon them, many others demonstrate the small acts of compassion (letting someone into traffic as they leave the library parking lot or waving someone through who is stuck under a red light) that speak to the best of the citizens of Stratford. It looks like we have at least another month or two to deal with these projects, but I’ve noticed a subtle shift as I wade through it each day. We’re slowly finding our way as we adjust to life in the Construction Triangle; the drivers seem a little more patient, the waits a little less aggravating, as we anticipate the completion of this phase of the project.
At least, I hope so. 2011 will see several additional projects in this same area, including the installation of a left turning lane on West Broad, the California Street condo channel replacement, and the painting of the Broadbridge and West Broad railroad bridges (not to mention the bulk of the Barnum Avenue streetscape improvements). As Stratford continues to improve, we’ll have plenty of time to practice our citizenship.