NORWALK, Conn. – At least two motorists were involved in an accident under the Rowayton Avenue railroad bridge in recent years – as many suspected was possible, they bumped mirrors.
That accident report is one of eight that Norwalk Common Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) produced Tuesday to correct one aspect of what he called a “continual stream of misinformation” regarding the Rowayton Avenue construction project, which involves lowering the road north of the railroad station, over the previous two weeks.
“I heard two weeks ago there had never been any accidents,” McCarthy said, referring to a comment Mike Mushak made at the Jan. 7 Public Works Committee meeting. “Now I guess there’s been one or two. Well, there have been 13. I actually went through them, read them. I actually took out five of the 13 because I thought they could be chalked up to careless driving or whatever. I’ve actually provided a copy of the eight that were documented by the Norwalk Police Department. Four that were part of the actual application, which is what I cited in the committee meeting, add to them another four besides the five, as I say, chalk it up to irresponsible driving.”
“There is no accident history at this location,” Mushak said at the Jan. 7 meeting. He later explained that he had called the Norwalk Police records department and asked about accidents. The person he spoke to couldn’t find any, he said.
Here are the accident reports McCarthy had Tuesday:
A 1998 Toyota slid on ice while going south and hit a tree at 295 Rowayton Avenue.
A 1995 ford hit a utility pole just past the driveway at the westbound side of the railroad station when it slid on ice after the driver slowed down for a vehicle coming out of the railroad station.
A bus slowed down because the driver didn’t think there was enough room on the roadway to share with an approaching vehicle, the driver said. The bus was rear-ended by a 1985 Honda at Rowayton Avenue and Belmont Place.
A Nissan Stanza was involved in a hit and run accident – another vehicle backed into it and then sped away. The Stanza came up behind a vehicle that was stopped because the road was closed. This was near the intersection of Rowayton Avenue and Thomes Street.
The side mirrors were damaged on both a Ford F550 and a Chevy Suburban when the vehicles went past each other as they went under the railroad bridge in opposite directions. The road was under construction and the lanes were very narrow. The collision was unavoidable, police said.
A 13-foot tall Ryder rental truck suffered severe damage after the driver tried to go under the bridge, which had an 11-foot clearance.
A 2003 Volkswagen was stopped due to construction and was backed into by a 2011 Audi. Both vehicles were going south. The Audi’s driver said he had tried to turn into the railroad station parking lot but the police officer handling traffic had opened up the northbound lane. He then backed into the Volkswagen while trying to get out of the way of oncoming traffic.
Another tragic backing accident: A woman driving a 2001 Chevy backed into a 2003 Saab because, she said, she didn’t see it. No location is specified in the police report other than Rowayton Avenue but the drawing indicates that it was in the railroad station parking lot.
Asked after Tuesday’s meeting why he thought the accidents were relevant, McCarthy said, “They’re all relevant. Have you every driven down there? Go down there, park, and look to get out. … All you can do when you pull out is pray that somebody isn’t coming over that hill.”
The point wasn’t that accidents were the only reason to do the project, he said.
“I’m just saying, people said there were no accidents,” he said. “I said, ‘no there were 13, five of them were really minor, eight of them are legitimate.’ There were three or four that were exactly in that intersection and it’s a blind spot in both directions. To the left it’s improved. … from the right you cannot see because of that hill.”
Mushak said none of accidents McCarthy listed were relevant to the project.
“As you can see, not a single accident over 17 years was related to the need for this project, and none were serious, with only one with minor injuries,” he said in an email Wednesday night. “They were all based on driver error, and in two cases, lack of proper sanding of the road during ice storms, as reported by the police who called the DPW from the scene to sand the road both times after cars slid off the road (only one was on the hill, as the driver stopped suddenly on the icy road to turn into the station).
He also said concerns about trucks hitting the bridge were not borne out in the data.
“… Only one bridge strike was reported to the police in 17 years since 1997, and that was for a 13-foot truck hitting the current bridge height of 11 feet, so even after spending $2.8 million to lower the road to increase the clearance to 12 feet, this accident would still have occurred.”
Mushak repeated his call for better warning signs.
“I still think better signage is needed despite the claims made by Mr. McCarthy that it is adequate, as they are only numerical signs, not ‘low clearance ahead’ that are needed at the road entrances at the top and bottom of Rowayton Avenue, the same as Darien now has on the Post Road.”