NORWALK, Conn. – Be prepared for a three-month detour soon around the emerging SoNo Collection.
In other Traffic Authority news, no rumble strips are planned for Maple Street, although they were requested.
The North Water Street detour is slated to begin on Feb. 15. It was unanimously approved by the Authority – with two members of the three-member body present – on Nov. 20, over objections made by Diane Cece.
“I am surprised to see something of this magnitude, in terms of a road closure, coming before you for a vote. It’s not a review or discussion item, it’s literally for you to vote on,” Cece said. “It’s a major enough thoroughfare in the area, I think there should be some vetting of it.”
GGP Vice President Doug Adams responded that the detour had been vetted by the Norwalk Fire Department, the Norwalk Police Department and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, in addition to input received from the Maritime Aquarium, the Norwalk Parking Authority and operators of the nearby apartment buildings.
ConnDOT was consulted in regard to the Walk Bridge project, and there are no conflicts, Adams said.
Planning and Zoning approved The SoNo Collection and its North Water Street overpass, Mayor Harry Rilling said, pointing out that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations prohibit vehicle traffic and pedestrians on the road while construction is underway overhead.
“I don’t think we have much of a choice in order to get it done and get it done safely,” Rilling said.
The SoNo Collection is a mall being built on two parcels, on either side of North Water Street where it meets West Avenue. An “overpass” was approved to be built over North Water, to connect the two parcels into one concourse of mall.
“This is requested out of necessity for the time we build the building over the road,” Adams said. “We are pouring all the concrete and laying the steel. We cannot allow traffic or pedestrians to go underneath the building until that is completed.”
The three months requested for the detour – Feb. 15 to May 15 – is the maximum time frame, factoring in everything that might go wrong, Adams said.
“It assumes winter weather, delays, etc.,” Adams said. “We expect the time to be short but we didn’t want to mislead people and offer a shorter time window and then come back. So, this is what we feel comfortably is the maximum it could be, if it’s blizzards, etc.”
GGP is building its south-side service road first to create an additional detour, Adams said. This extends Pine Street, which is currently a dead end, to North Water Street just beyond the “overpass,” next to the railroad tracks.
“That traffic will come by the Macedonia Church, down around and underneath,” Adams said. “In addition, there’s Ann Street and Marshall Street (for drivers to choose instead).”
“I think they’re the best detours we could come up with,” Department of Public Works Director Bruce Chimento said.
The timing of the traffic light at West Avenue and Pine Street/Garner Street Ext. will be adjusted for southbound traffic turning left, during the detour, according to the Traffic Authority documents. GGP is required to provide flagmen and signs will be adjusted, in the plan devised by Langan, an engineering firm.
Cece, who is on the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) executive committee, said she was concerned about the volume of traffic in a heavily congested area.
“The traffic on West Avenue today is just under what it was 10 years ago before (North Water Street) existed so we feel comfortable that the existing road structure plus the Pine Street extension that we are building in advance, will be able to handle the rerouting of traffic,” Adams said.
Rilling and Traffic Commissioner Charlie Yost did not hesitate to approve the detour.
Cece found more satisfaction in her objection to rumble strips.
“Rumble strips are an effective countermeasure for reducing roadway departure crashes. The noise and vibration produced by rumble strips alert drivers when they leave the traveled way,” the Federal Highway Administration states on its website.
Norwalk Hospital requested rumble strips, Chimento said. The Bike/Walk Commission agreed with the request, Chairwoman Nancy Rosett said.
Chimento said the last time the city put in rumble strips it was on Flax Hill Road and they lasted three days.
“Yeah, because people don’t like being woken up at 3 in the morning,” Rilling said.
DPW recommended putting in rumble strips on Maple Street to see if they worked to reduce speeding, as requested by the hospital, Chimento said.
“What are your expectations?” Yost asked.
“That they’ll be removed in about a week,” Chimento replied.
“That’s what I’m thinking,” Rilling said, asking Rosett for the Commission’s opinion.
“We are only proposing to put them on the downhill side of the street, which is not the side of the street that is near the residences. It’s near the entrance of the hospital,” Rosett said. “We feel that a significant percentage of the people who live in those buildings also work in the hospital, so they may be a little more tolerant of the noise. But as Bruce says, when we put them in we soon will find out.”
“I’m struggling with this one,” Rilling said.
CNNA was aware of the “Flax Hill debacle,” Cece said.
“It’s not just that you hear it at night and that it’s loud, and that it was so bad that they were literally taken out, I am sure within days. The other factor is … anticipatory noise. Once you hear something, it’s really almost all you hear and then you are waiting for it to happen again,” Cece said.
Rilling asked if the rumble strips were in stock. They’d be ordered at a cost of $10 a foot, Senior Civil Engineer Mike Yeosock said.
Yost voted to approve the rumble strips; Rilling voted against it. With a tie, the request was denied.
“Let’s look at some other traffic calming measures,” Rilling said. “I know what those noises are going to be, they are going to be outrageous. And there’s houses right there.”
He turned to Yost. “I know you really didn’t want to do it,” he said. “I could tell by the look on your face.”