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Council echoes East Norwalk, sends message to ConnDOT: No tractor trailers, please

A tractor trailer on East Avenue in Norwalk. (Photo by Third Taxing District Commissioner Deb Goldstein.)

A tractor trailer on East Avenue in Norwalk, captured in a photo provided by Third Taxing District Commissioner Deb Goldstein. “Darien, Rowayton do not have to deal with this…why should East Norwalk?” she said.

Updated, 1:11 p.m., video added.

NORWALK, Conn. – The debate over lowering East Avenue continues, but a majority of Norwalk Common Council members are offering support for residents who say it will bring more tractor trailers their way.

The Council, in a surprise move Tuesday evening, voted to send a message to the Connecticut Department of Transportation with a resolution calling for a 13-foot, 6-inch clearance for the proposed railroad bridge work, as opposed to the 14-foot, 3-inch clearance now planned. The one opposing voice was Council President Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large), whose comments inspired a late night-rebuttal sent to NancyOnNorwalk from Third Taxing District Commissioner Deb Goldstein.

“I think if Councilman Kimmel were to look more closely at this project, he would come around,” Goldstein said in an email.

(Video of Council conversation at end of story.)

Kimmel said he wasn’t sure a tractor trailer could get off of Interstate 95 at Exit 16 because the road there is narrow and congested, and there are a series of lights; Goldstein sent a photo of a tractor trailer on East Avenue.

The resolution stems from last week’s well-attended Public Works Committee meeting on the plans for East Avenue, which featured six ConnDOT officials answering sometimes testy questions. (A video of the entire meeting is here.) There was nothing on the agenda for Tuesday’s Council meeting regarding the topic, but, minutes from an expected adjournment, Majority Leader John Kydes (D-District C) made a motion to “suspend the rules” and introduce a resolution, and the Council voted unanimously to do just that.

The situation is a little muddy because the issue in front of the Council concerns a traffic study for East Avenue, along with design work for ConnDOT, which is separate from ConnDOT’s intention to lower the roadway when it rebuilds the bridge. Kydes made sure to delineate that separation when he introduced the resolution, and others followed in making sure that was understood.

“I believe that we should advocate to the D.O.T. to perhaps (reconsider) the lowering of the roadway, because I can tell you right now there’s a lot more residents who want to see the project stopped versus wanting it to proceed,” Kydes said.

Councilwoman Michelle Maggio (R-District C), co-owner of an East Avenue business, said she welcomed the idea of a resolution from Kydes, and called it a “nice compromise.”

“I was pushing for a little stricter requirements, maybe having more help from our state reps and our state senator and maybe putting a little more pressure on Hartford,” Maggio said.

Maggio and Kydes both mentioned working on the bridge project for two years. Former Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord and former Principal Engineer Dick Linnartz had said trucks would not get off at Exit 16 because Exit 15 provided a more attractive truck route up North Water Street, Maggio said. But that route has speed bumps and two-lane traffic, making Exit 16 more attractive, she said.

“We have been told numerous times by a lot of people that the Department of Transportation will do exactly what they want to on East Avenue as far as the railroad bridge is concerned. However, I think that is where we live and the D.O.T. needs to pay attention to what we want,” Maggio said.

Kimmel said the traffic study is critical and should be supported. But he was against the resolution, he said.

“The notion that there will be increased truck traffic on East Avenue is at this point is based on speculation, ‘maybe, maybe not,’” Kimmel said. “Secondly, although I did not agree with Hal Alvord on many issues, anyone who gets off on 16 … (knows) that is pretty difficult for a truck, and I am not even sure that a tractor-trailer or an 18-wheeler could even do it, to be honest with you.”

East Norwalkers who attended last week’s meeting talked about the residential nature of their neighborhood, and the inappropriateness of big rigs coming through. Kimmel said that bothered him a little.

“If indeed a truck can’t get under the bridge, the railroad bridge after it is reconfigured, that means it will have to make a right on either St. John, Osborne or Fort Point and just go around on Osborne and come back over on either probably Van Zant or Rowan or right into South Norwalk, which is easier to do in my opinion if you go right on Fort Point,” Kimmel said.

Those are “primarily residential neighbor, more housing than commercial establishments,” Kimmel said.

“Those streets are much easier to navigate than getting off Exit 16 with trucks that large, I can tell you that pretty much for sure. So I have some reservations about creating a situation where it’s going to add trucks to a residential neighborhood,” Kimmel said.

ConnDOT brings up thoughts about the comic strip “Dilbert,” Kimmel said.

“You have certain similarities there. You have a big pot of money, you have to figure out how to spend it, whether a project is necessary or not. You have to spend the money and that may be somewhat the case here,” Kimmel said.

But the area around the train station and “that section of East Avenue” are not residential, he said.

Maggio said that Kimmel’s comments made her more supportive of the traffic study because a person cannot know how traffic affects a neighborhood by just driving through it at random. Kimmel replied with concerns about safety for commuters using the train station.

“I am sure we all realize we do have a dangerous situation with that bridge, even (with commuters) just crossing the street,” Kimmel said.

From personal experience, he knows that it’s nearly impossible to walk under that bridge during a snowstorm without getting soaking wet, he said.

“There are hundreds of people, possibly more, who depend on East Avenue to get to that train station in a safe manner. So let’s not forget that we are dealing with a big part of the city’s population, just like with the Rowayton station,” Kimmel said. “…Lots of people are down there every single morning and every single evening and their safety is paramount.”

“Everything I am hearing just reinforces my belief that we don’t need more trucks going down East Avenue,” Councilman Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) said.

Currently, the only way large trucks can get to the leaf dump site and tankers can get to the wastewater treatment plant is to go down Fort Point Street, Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said. Garbage trucks also go that way, he said.

“It’s not highly used; it’s not convenient, that’s for sure, and I think opening up East Avenue bridge makes it a little more convenient for trucks to get down there, which may bring more trucks,” Hempstead said.

Kimmel voted no; Public Works Committee Chairman John Igneri (D-District E) abstained.

Igneri had called the issue “ironic,” given the intense situation a few years ago with the Rowayton train station and the road lowering there.

The state will do what the state will do, and will not change its plans, he said.

“I therefore think we should focus on the engineering study that is coming before the Council in the next couple of weeks. It’s very important that we understand the traffic that we are talking about. We have not had a traffic study in a long time,” Igneri said.

Councilman Steve Serasis (D-District A) protested that a traffic study had been done when he was on the Council in 2009. Maggio said she had learned that the Council in 2009 was given traffic counts, not a study.

“We had a thick packet, that’s all it was?” Serasis said.

The last traffic study was done in 1997, according to DPW.

Supporting the traffic study is important “to make sure we make the best of what may be a very bad situation,” Councilman Thomas Livingston (D-District E) said.

Igneri said after the meeting that he abstained because, as chairman of the Public Works Committee, he “didn’t want the state to believe we are against the bridge. We are for the bridge but we are concerned about the height.”

“Going forward, I think the bigger issue is we can make East Avenue into a very nice community neighborhood. It can look like a village,” he said. The situation on East Avenue now, with alternating turn lanes, is “silly” and the study would address that and the possible overabundance of traffic lights, which might help the small business people there, he said.

A car carrier on Osborne Avenue, according to Third Taxing District Commissioner Deb Goldstein. The car carrier's driver had gone that way to avoid I-95 traffic and then had to rearrange the vehicles to get under the power lines, she said.

A car carrier on Osborne Avenue, according to Third Taxing District Commissioner Deb Goldstein. The car carrier’s driver had gone that way to avoid I-95 traffic and then had to rearrange the vehicles to get under the power lines, she said.

“This resolution is encouraging as a sign that the Council is prepared to assist us in making the case to state legislators and other powers-that-be,” Goldstein said later. “The sooner the Connecticut DOT folks start focusing on how to implement the change instead of telling us why it can’t be done, the better it will be for everyone. It is my hope that our state office-holders are as much in our corner as our local officials are, so we can stop arguing with a piece of paper and move ahead with all the beneficial improvements of this and the WALK bridge projects.”

In response to Kimmel, she said, “I believe Fort Point is semi-industrial, not residential.”

“Having a truck-friendly route from Exit 15 does not stop these monsters from exiting at 16 and coming through now. … Rolling out the welcome wagon to larger trucks will just increase the traffic down the alternatives to avoid the lights,” Goldstein said. “Truckers don’t make decisions about exiting the highway based upon the difficulty of the turns they can’t know about, they follow their GPS units to avoid jams and then find themselves in these situations.”

6 comments

Bruce Kimmel January 27, 2016 at 10:12 am

Good story. We had an excellent exchange of views last night. As the saying goes, you win some, you lose some.

Debora Goldstein January 27, 2016 at 10:29 am

On November 30, the council had a TRAFFIC STUDY (not an ENGINEERING CONTRACT to alter the 2010 plan by removing a third of the length and changing the lane configuration again) that would have cost $39k.

http://www.norwalkct.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/10062

After objections to the traffic study at $39k, the current proposal for a significant scoping change, and at a cost of almost ten times as much ($359k) appeared on a Public Works agenda.

http://www.norwalkct.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/10156

The engineering study scope will permit the railway bridge project to proceed over the public’s objections, because the two are linked, and nobody is going to want to make any more changes after spending $359k on the engineering study. Just remember what happened in Rowayton. They were told they would have to give money back if they changed anything after the railroad bridge got done. Don’t let this happen in East Norwalk.

Debora Goldstein January 27, 2016 at 1:33 pm

I would again like to address some of the points Councilman Kimmel is making.

“If indeed a truck can’t get under the bridge, the railroad bridge after it is reconfigured, that means it will have to make a right on either St. John, Osborne or Fort Point and just go around on Osborne and come back over on either probably Van Zant or Rowan or right into South Norwalk, which is easier to do in my opinion if you go right on Fort Point,” Kimmel said.

[Respectfully, Mr. Kimmel is missing the point. The concerns are about large trucks getting off the highway and using East Avenue to cut under the bridge and go LEFT onto Winfield/Rt 136 to go North, not the trucks who are already going RIGHT to get to SoNo and the treatment plant. Winfield is only one lane in each direction, and like their neighbors on Olmstead, who have significant waits to turn out of their cul de sac onto East Avenue, Winfieldians already have considerable difficulty getting out of their own driveways onto the state road. Queuing of seventy foot long rigs under the bridge will likely cause gridlock for all of the intersecting streets along East Avenue, and visibility to oncoming rigs may be impaired for those coming around the cemetery traffic circle.]

From personal experience, he knows that it’s nearly impossible to walk under that bridge during a snowstorm without getting soaking wet, he said.

[Not sure how lowering the road keeps folks dry.]

“There are hundreds of people, possibly more, who depend on East Avenue to get to that train station in a safe manner. So let’s not forget that we are dealing with a big part of the city’s population, just like with the Rowayton station,” Kimmel said. “…Lots of people are down there every single morning and every single evening and their safety is paramount.”

[Agreed. And safety is a big part of the issue with lowering the roadway. For starters, I can tell you that the sloping into the parking lots and up Fort Point Street is extremely hazardous in winter time. It is difficult to understand how increasing the sloping around the train station to one that exceeds the City’s own standards for a Principal Urban Arterial Roadway will increase safety to those pedestrians. This also does not address whether the original Environmental Justice designation for this project is in jeopardy from increasing diesel pollution in an artificially produced “smog bowl” under the bridge. Not to mention engineering this road for the complete opposite of what good planning would warrant for rising sea levels. Cars are the safety issue we can see. Responsible representation should address the ones that are less apparent.]

ConnDOT brings up thoughts about the comic strip “Dilbert,” Kimmel said.

“You have certain similarities there. You have a big pot of money, you have to figure out how to spend it, whether a project is necessary or not. You have to spend the money and that may be somewhat the case here,” Kimmel said.

[Agreed. I had roughly the same reaction myself at the ConnDOT information session a couple of weeks back regarding the repaving on I-95 where our community has been told repeatedly that the rules don’t permit them to give us sound barriers–again, something the rules seem to hold uniquely against Norwalk, since every other residential community in lower Fairfield County has them. I asked if we could take the money being used to lower the roadway by two feet, which nobody wants and use it for sound barriers, which many surrounding the Yankee Doodle Bridge would very much appreciate. This would make both ends of the District happy. Understanding that its not all that simple doesn’t make it any less Dilbertish to the folks in East Norwalk who only ever hear the word “NO” from ConnDOT.]

Debora Goldstein January 27, 2016 at 2:02 pm

I’d like to address a few of the comments made:

“If indeed a truck can’t get under the bridge, the railroad bridge after it is reconfigured, that means it will have to make a right on either St. John, Osborne or Fort Point and just go around on Osborne and come back over on either probably Van Zant or Rowan or right into South Norwalk, which is easier to do in my opinion if you go right on Fort Point,” Kimmel said.

[Mr. Kimmel misses the point. The concerns are largely about large trucks exiting the highway and using East Avenue to go under the bridge and turn LEFT onto Winfield enroute to points north. Winfield, also known as Rte 136 is one lane in either direction. Like their neighbors on Olmstead place, who have considerable problems exiting their cul de sac onto East Avenue because of traffic, Winfieldians already have considerable difficulties just exiting their own driveways onto the state road. In addition, queueing of 70 foot long big rigs along East Avenue will result in gridlocking the intersecting streets used by locals. Sight lines for folks coming around the traffic circle that abuts the cemetery are questionable on the approach to oncoming left-turning trucks as well.]

From personal experience, he knows that it’s nearly impossible to walk under that bridge during a snowstorm without getting soaking wet, he said.

[Not sure how lowering the roadway keeps people dry.]

“There are hundreds of people, possibly more, who depend on East Avenue to get to that train station in a safe manner. So let’s not forget that we are dealing with a big part of the city’s population, just like with the Rowayton station,” Kimmel said. “…Lots of people are down there every single morning and every single evening and their safety is paramount.”

[Yes, and safety issues are among those that our residents are concerned about. The slopes entering the parking lots and going up Fort Point are already treacherous in the winter time. I am not sure how increasing the grade until it exceeds the City’s own standards for a Principal Urban Arterial Roadway will result in safer conditions for pedestrians. This also does not address the fact that we are designing the road exactly the opposite of what you would be doing to prepare for rising sea levels. Nor does it address the fact that we may be risking the Environmental Justice designation for this project by increasing diesel pollution with a “smog bowl” under the bridge.]

ConnDOT brings up thoughts about the comic strip “Dilbert,” Kimmel said.

“You have certain similarities there. You have a big pot of money, you have to figure out how to spend it, whether a project is necessary or not. You have to spend the money and that may be somewhat the case here,” Kimmel said.

[Yes. I agree. I had these very thoughts myself, sitting at a ConnDOT public information session a couple of weeks ago about the repaving of I-95 around the Yankee Doodle Bridge. There, once again, the rules mysteriously single out Norwalk as the only residential community on the I-95 corridor in lower Fairfield County that is not allowed to have sound barriers built with state-administered Federal transportation money, and the state will not pay for them with state funds.

I asked, half in jest, if we could trade the cost of lowering the roadway that nobody wants for the sound barriers that many around the Yankee Doodle Bridge would appreciate.

Understanding that it’s not that simple does not make it any less Dilbertish that Norwalk is the only community that is repeatedly told “NO” by ConnDOT.]

And to Mr. Igneri’s point:

“Going forward, I think the bigger issue is we can make East Avenue into a very nice community neighborhood. It can look like a village,” he said. The situation on East Avenue now, with alternating turn lanes, is “silly” and the study would address that and the possible overabundance of traffic lights, which might help the small business people there, [Igneri] said.

[With all due respect, the bigger issue is the lowering. It really doesn’t matter how nice the curtains are going to be if we let the house burn down. It may LOOK like a village, but it will FEEL like a highway spur.]

Oldtimer January 28, 2016 at 10:42 am

How does Conn DOT get to decide about lowering the grade on East Ave under the RR bridge ? That is a local road, not a State Rd, and only inches from flooding at High Tide during a heavy rain. Already there is a short steep grade getting up to the RR station parking lot and the intersection of East and Winfield.

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