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Third Taxing District presented with plans to change East Avenue

A rendering of the East Norwalk train station and accompanying road lowering planned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation. (Harold Cobin)

Updated, 9:39 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Plans to redo East Avenue from the Interstate 95 interchange to Van Zant Street include a “criss-cross” rearrangement at exit 16, a realigned train station driveway at Fort Point Street and underground utilities in between.

“We think it will make a very beautiful gateway into the East Norwalk area,” Mayor Harry Rilling said at a Monday meeting where the plans were unveiled to Third Taxing District Commissioners.

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story

 

The plans are connected to the State’s Walk Bridge project and the lowering of East Avenue under the railroad bridge. The Department of Public Works in 2016 contracted with A. DiCesare Associates to do preliminary work for the Walk Bridge project, including design of East Avenue improvements near the bridge.

Norwalk Department of Public Works Principal Engineer Lisa Burns shows a photo of all the utility lines over East Avenue at Fort Point Street, Monday in the Third Taxing District offices.

“We put the project on hold for nearly a year because the state wasn’t sure what the project limits were,” DPW Principal Engineer Lisa Burns said Monday.  The City is paying 100 percent of the design costs and didn’t want to spend money on design and then have the state change its mind, she said.

Now DPW must go from “30 percent design” to “90 percent design” by April, she said.

Other changes include obtaining grant funding to replace the traffic signal at Myrtle Street.  When the State lowers East Avenue under the railroad bridge, and makes it four lanes wide, the train station driveway will be realigned to “T” with Fort Point Street and a traffic light will be installed, making it safer for pedestrians. A  long-planned rotary reconstruction “looks like it will finally go forward,” she said.

Norwalk is in charge of almost all of the work on the stretch, except for “a gap” north of Myrtle Street and south of Saint John Street.

“We wanted the State to deal with Mike’s Deli because of all the parking there, it would be easier for the state to take on the St. John intersection,” Burns said. “…It gets very difficult with property acquisition and they are in a better position to work all that stuff out.”

The Connecticut Department of Public Works revealed a new concept for the I-95 interchange, a divergent diamond interchange, to City officials last Spring, Burns said.

“It will be the first in Connecticut, one of the first in the northeast,” she said. “…It’s like a criss-cross. It eliminates all of the left turn conflicts that people have, the dangerous lefts that people are making to try to get onto I-95.”

“A divergent diamond interchange, also known as a DDI, allows two directions of traffic to temporarily cross to the left side of the road. A DDI moves high volumes of traffic through an intersection without increasing the number of lanes and traffic signals….{and} provides easier access to an interstate,” the North Carolina Department of Transportation states in a YouTube video, shown below.

East Norwalk “is the only part of town that has not explored the underground utility option yet,” Burns said Monday.  “There’s been a lot of investment in other parts of the city, South Norwalk, West Avenue, where a holistic approach is looked at to try to unify a neighborhood together, the aesthetics of it all.”

The wires are already set to go underground in the railroad bridge area because it’s State policy, she said.

The plot to underground the utilities drew some pushback – Commissioner Debora Goldstein questioned the promised economic benefits and noted the TTD’s track record of low-cost, extremely reliable electricity.

“Everybody talks about moving (utilities) underground because it makes the area more valuable or more attractive, but we have no trouble attracting people to come here,” she said.

“East Norwalk is basically an overhead system,” Goldstein said. “I think I can speak for the ratepayers here, we are very, very proud of the area, aerial wires notwithstanding. But when we are talking about economic development and opportunity, we also have to take into account the fact that this ratepayer-owned utility has successfully kept their rates substantially lower than the investor-owned utilities that are right next door.

That has not been factored into the possible economic development conversations, with attracting businesses to this part of the city. Competitive electric rates are also an economic development driver,” she said.

Former TTD employee Pete Johnson said that underground utilities could cost more in the long term.  Johnson said he’d spent 20 years in the Northeast Utilities test department, and underground utilities are great for the first 30 years but then if there’s a nick in the aluminum service cable it takes 10 hours to repair it instead of the quick fix that can be done now.

“You are looking at double to triple the time and then you are not using linemen,” Johnson said. “You are using cable splicers, that have to know what type of material they are using, the material you have to carry on the truck and have it all the time.”

The cable has to be pulled out of the shaft and 90 percent of the time the issue in the middle of the pipe, he said.   “Wires have a 60 cycle hum. They are moving, 60 cycles at a time. People don’t know it but it does. Wires move. What happens eventually: the sand will get through it. That’s why I’m saying, 30 years, you’re going to start having problems.”

“We recognize the fact that this is the first time you are seeing it,” Rilling said. “We just wanted to start the discussion. The underground utilities, I know they do it in other places and it seems to be the trend now, when they are building new infrastructure to go underground. I am hoping that at least we can have that discussion.”

Goldstein said the Commissioners would begin to research the topic.

“The ratepayers should vote on something like this,” Johnson said. “All of East Norwalk should have its chance to vote yay or nay on this.”

 

 

 

21 comments

East Norwalker January 10, 2019 at 7:46 am

As a homeowner in East Norwalk, I welcome these changes and think it will bring needed improvements to East Ave over the long term. I walk to the station every day to commute to work. It is dangerous walking under the bridge on the street to enter the station or trying to cross East Ave in the middle of the street without a proper stop. The realignment with Fort Point St and new traffic light will make this much safer for pedestrians.

Generally, I think East Norwalk has a long way to go to become more pedestrian friendly. Winfield St, for example, has crumbling or nonexistent sidewalks and cars illegally park on the sidewalk with impunity. Walking on the side of the street is not safe, and I can’t imagine what it would be like for a person with a disability or pushing a stroller.

While I’m no expert on utilities, it seems moving cables underground is the right way to go as well. The above ground cables take a lot of space and are dangerous especially during a storm. I frequently see cables dangling in my neighborhood after even the slightest storm, which is not only dangerous for children but also makes it treacherous just to walk around.

I hope to see these improvements move forward. Changes on this scale will bring short term disruption but in the long term they will be best for East Norwalk, especially East Ave and the train station area, which I think we can all agree need some TLC.

Mike Mushak January 10, 2019 at 9:00 am

Wow! Loved waking up to this good news on NoN!

First, I watched the video to the end and this is a great idea from the DOT, which will benefit everyone who uses Exit 16 including East Norwalk residents and businesses. It will save time, reduce frustration, and reduce tailpipe emissions too. And it’s better for cyclists and pedestrians too.

Also, it will be great to see East Avenue become a safer and more walkable and attractive tree-lined gateway to East Norwalk, instead of the jumble of power lines, utility poles, and confusing traffic pattern it is now.

The challenge is to move traffic at higher volumes but slower speeds through this area, which will reduce accidents and injuries while also reducing short-cut traffic on surrounding residential streets.

Tree-lined attractive streets are known through numerous studies to reduce speeds and increase profits for businesses. Burying the utilities will allow for more trees and offer less obstructions on sidewalks and near driveways, as well as protect utilities in extreme weather.

Bravo to Mayor Rilling, Lisa Burns, DPW, CT DOT, and Deb Goldstein and everyone else involved for finally moving this long-awaited project forward!

Roberta Twist January 10, 2019 at 9:10 am

I am a home owner and small business owner based in East Norwalk. TTD has been providing exemplary service at low rates for the 15 years I have lived here. I believe we should explore options and weigh them but when an amazing local utility company has serious concerns, please let’s listen. Just because it’s the “trend” doesn’t mean this is the right move for EANO. Repairing utilities, particularly when underground, has costs. Since Norwalk has historically been unable to pay for upkeep of sidewalks even without buried electric, I’m not optimistic that this would be a prudent long term decision.

SONO Resident January 10, 2019 at 10:05 am

Lets underground utilities in South Norwalk while we are at it, particularly in high traffic areas. Our above ground utilities is an eyesore and is embarrassing. Obviously it is a simpler repair but a trade-off because below ground utilities will not require the same level of maintenance.

Holden Caulfield January 10, 2019 at 10:23 am

This seems like good news at first glance. TTD and Deb Goldstein provide outstanding service for East Norwalk. I agree with Roberta that TTD’s concerns should be seriously considered and perhaps Ms. Goldstein is right to suggest a vote on the subject. Personally, I am eager to see the utility lines go underground. More trees in the area would be so nice. Why stop at East Ave? Put the lines in residential East Norwalk underground as well.

There should be more parking spaces added that are closer to the station and not a half mile away. I realize Spinnaker is adding parking but it seems the lot between Fitch St and the tracks should also be expanded. Monthly parking should be much cheaper and more in line with surrounding towns. Shame on the city administration for allowing a private company to manage the parking lot and gouge residents.

If the city plans to install yet another traffic light at the Fort Point / East Ave intersection, they should remove at least one light between the station and I-95. Driving from Gregory Blvd to 95 at 6am takes more than 10 minutes and it’s not because there is any traffic on the roads that early. It’s possible the street is so dangerous because of the lights and the lane changes.

Why is the state not providing more funding? Why isn’t the administration engaging more with Hartford to get the resources? This redevelopment is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity and while I’m encouraged by the good news, I’m confident the city will find a way to mess it all up.

Sarah Mann January 10, 2019 at 10:37 am

The I-95 interchange needs to be improved, it’s unsafe. No doubt commuters will appreciate the suggested changes for the train station area. And the idea of underground utilities along East Avenue is pleasing to the eye, and at first appears practical.

However, if the electors of the Third Taxing District are expected to pay for this then we should expect the TTD commissioners and the city to reach out to other stakeholders to pay for the burial of the wires. Specifically, the developer building the 182+ apartments, DOT/infrastructure money, and perhaps the powers that be can prevail upon the grants person to seek out some other funding. East Avenue is not just used by the residents of East Norwalk. Folks use it to travel to the beach, marinas, Oyster Festival and probably will use it to go to the mall when it is completed. Yes, East Avenue is a Gateway. Why should the electors of the TTD risk a rate hike to pay for an attractive Norwalk Gateway?

carol January 10, 2019 at 10:39 am

bravo Roberta–lets not do our usual rush into things because it is “the trend”. we have waited this long,investigate before you commit.

Bill Nightingale January 10, 2019 at 11:05 am

Putting utility lines underground is an opportunity that should be seized upon whenever possible. Like establishing a national park or preserving open space one must jump on it. 10-15 years from now the cost won’t matter. It is about improving quality of life and aesthetics. It presents to the world the image that we want to be as a city going forward forever. Just do it!

Andrew January 10, 2019 at 1:19 pm

The diamond interchange is an incredible idea for that location. I have seen them in action and they are a very robust solution for exactly that type of interchange.

EnoPride January 10, 2019 at 1:24 pm

Some really great stuff. Long overdue, and very exciting. Concerned though as to how this new East Ave. configuration, while helping traffic flow, will exacerbate the already existing safety challenges and quality of life issues of the long suffering streets between Exit 16 ramp/1-95 and Fort Point. All studies show that widening streets help with traffic congestion for a while as a quick fix, until they attract even more through traffic and cars as the years go by. More cars on East Avenue means even more cut through than is already invading these quieter residential streets.

I hope the safety challenges and the quality of life issues of Olmstead, Raymond Terrace, Myrtle and St. John on the opposite side of East Avenue with its perpendicular residential streets, all which are loaded with children, will be more a part of the dialogue in this TOD study. Why not dead end the streets of Raymond Terrace and Myrtle as Olmstead is dead ended, which would redirect whatever cut through happens onto Fitch, which appears to be a wider, commercially zoned street more suited to through traffic? Why can’t the streets running perpendicular to St. John be dead ended to buffer these streets from through traffic of the impending new train station and from the brick a brack box trucks and commuter cars cutting through from South Norwalk via Fort Point? Or close off St. John on the other end instead? We all know that dead ended and cul de sac neighborhoods are safer and raise property values. Quick fix for safety, better quality of life and substantially deterring cut through traffic. You’d be killing two birds with one stone here. Brilliant.

Raymond Terrace is an abused through street that gets slammed with speeding trucks and cut through cars, commercial trucks smashing through the useless speed bumps even though there are “No Trucks” signs at the entry. That residents of Raymond Terrace have to turn right around Rite Aid to turn left onto St. John to get into their street (The kids’ school bus has to go around Rite Aid… Insanity!) is just awful. Jersey Jug Handle needed here. Seriously.

The reason that there is no left turn onto Raymond is that many years ago, the residents petitioned for it and demanded a car counter to prove the point that the street had become very dangerous because of the left and right turn options. The high volume of through traffic recorded was startling. Well, now the street is becoming dangerous again with just the right turn option. Why? Because all the speeding commercial trucks and commuters that don’t want to get onto I-95 are cutting through the streets perpendicular to St. John onto St. John to cut through Raymond to get to wherever.

Just makes sense that these long suffering streets at the gateway of East Norwalk finally be addressed as part and parcel of this project. Hopefully these issues will be tackled and remedied for children’s safety and better quality of life for these residents. Seems like what could be easy, inexpensive fixes would make a huge difference here.

Rob Sassone January 11, 2019 at 10:10 am

The DDI makes No sense. It would be no different than keeping cars on “their” side of the road and just letting traffic flow in 1 direction at a time. Cars can easily make turns when there is no uncoming traffic. No need for the criss-cross!

Mike Mushak January 11, 2019 at 12:29 pm

@Rob Sassone, your idea sounds good on paper but one of the big advantages of the DDI is that it stacks the stopped traffic on the bridge over the highway, instead of in front of the local streets and the two entrance ramps which will continue to flow onto the highway unimpeded by light cycles as they are now. Your solution would stack traffic back on East Ave in both directions further than it is now, defeating the entire purpose of moving a higher volume of traffic with less conflict through a crowded and dangerous intersection which the DDI accomplishes. There’s a reason why the DDI won the Innovative Engineering Award.

Bryan Meek January 11, 2019 at 1:58 pm

Don’t forget to put a bike lane right in the middle of the street. Also have it zig zag in and out of traffic so Strawberry Hill is not alone in being the most stupidly designed street in east norwalk.

Bryan Meek January 11, 2019 at 1:59 pm

The reason exit 16 is a disaster is because we’ve never finished the Merrit and 7 connection. This would take a lot of cars off the road between exit 16 and Main Street where the traffic chokes every day. But this is par for the course, ignore the real problems and promote more pie in the sky.

Bryan Meek January 11, 2019 at 2:05 pm

Also, if you are going to try to gush over the benefits of a DDI design, can you try to find a picture of one that is done in a 1/4th of an acre area, like exit 16, instead of the picture above that is laid out over 20 acres of open space with zero adjacent buildings?

Marija Bryant January 11, 2019 at 5:54 pm

Exit 16 is a bigger problem and won’t be solved by any DDI intersection on East Avenue. The weave when entering southbound with I-95 traffic exiting to rte 7/West Avenue is a hazard as is the opposite side weave from traffic entering I-95 northbound. It’s a mess now and I can’t imagine what it will be like with mall traffic at peak times. My suggestion is simple and saves a lot of money. Close Exit 16 and put the traffic on rte 7 and West Avenue – streets that are better equipped to deal with it. I know this will get screams of protest from commuters but – really – think about it. That one simple move will speed traffic flow and improve safety on I-95, siphon mall traffic onto connectors better equipped to handle the increase, and reduce the volume of through traffic on upper and lower East Avenue. I’m OK with driving a bit further to get onto I-95 if it means improved conditions for the residential and commercial areas on and around East Avenue.

Danny January 11, 2019 at 11:49 pm

Can someone tell me the last time you saw a bike on East Avenue? I’m in agreement with the plan, except the obnoxious bike lanes and LOWERING THE ROAD so tractor trailers can drive under the bridge.

EnoPride January 12, 2019 at 2:51 pm

Absolutely agree with Marijah Bryant. Exit 16 is in a really crappy location to begin with. It should be closed and relocated, which would solve most of the problems. As it is clustered too closely to Exits 14 and 15, it gets slammed with massive run off going northbound. Fatalities have happened on I-95 right in front of it. Exit 16 IS the problem, DDI intersection or not. The DDI, while it will improve the traffic flow temporarily, is a mere patch to mask this much bigger core problem. The DDI won’t cause less traffic and chaos; it will just reshuffle the even more volume which will only get worse with The Sono Collection.

Exit 16’s LOCATION is the problem that causes the cut through from all directions which has created the ripple effect 4 gas station open air rest stop/truck stop vibe at the gateway of East Norwalk, which attracts even more cut through and destroys the residential areas. Can even one person (Mr. Kydes?) at City Hall acknowledge this reality? Why doesn’t City Hall just declare eminent domain on the whole area before Fort Point and expand 1-95 and make a big fancy I-95 rest stop? This seems to be where this is all going unfortunately. Didn’t the former governor want to expand the highway around there?

We all chimed in here and threw in our opinions about closing Exit 16, or relocating it to a less dense, less resident disruptive location further up off I-95 on NoN when the public was asked where they thought the worst intersections were in Norwalk. Clearly the opinions fell on deaf ears over at City Hall, or this DDI patch was already in the pipeline via closed session, so the public could not weigh in with their valuable opinions.

Again, City Hall misses, and again, City Hall plays God and makes the decision behind closed doors, without weighing public opinion as public servants should rightly do. As a result, the end product will be less than ideal, and in fact exacerbate the already existing issues years down the road. I am really disappointed in our district council members (Kydes) for not standing strong and for being onboard with the lowering of the road bit here on this project to roll out the red carpet to accommodating even more box trucks that abuse this gateway as a cut through. Kydes, and his fellow council members, are taking the easy way and enabling the root fundamental problem of the nightmare which is Exit 16 rather than remedying it. And Kydes lives here! Go figure…

Cyclists are rare sitings on this part of East Avenue. Too, too dangerous! City Hall is a bit delusional to think that a DDI, wider road and bike lanes, and more box trucks and tractor trailers (Yes! We get tractor trailers, City Hall! We tried to warn you!) are conducive to encouraging more bike traffic. There are a few kids who bike to and from school in the area and whenever I see them with the cars flying past, I get very nervous and crosss my fingers that they don’t get hit. One child cyclist was hit on Strawberry Hill a while back. Now, if City Hall made the harder decision to close Exit 16, then maybe we would have more cyclists here…

Steve Mann January 12, 2019 at 6:06 pm

First of all, let’s dispel the myth that an award validates an idea. Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Alan Trammell being placed the Hall of Fame, and China on the UN Human Rights Counsel make no sense at all, but someone thought it was a good idea. Mr. Meek is correct. This is putting five pounds of sausage in a one pound bag. It doesn’t fit without a major overhaul, widening the bridge over I-95, and property seizures on East Avenue.

Many of Norwalk’s traffic issues can be solved with one action: Traffic enforcement. Cite illegal right turns on red, cite those who cut through parking lots to miss lights, cite those who don’t use turn signals, and yes, cite those who choose to sit at a green light and text vs. moving forward. The lack of consideration for the safety and well being of others on the roads of Norwalk is rife. The attitude of me first causes accidents, and traffic back ups. We pay police officers over a quarter of a million dollars per year in some cases, and driving around this city is sometimes akin to a blood sport.

EnoPride January 12, 2019 at 7:22 pm

Does everyone remember this coverage of tractor trailer and large truck traffic and should we or shouldn’t we lower under the bridge:

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2016/01/council-echoes-east-norwalk-sends-message-to-conndot-no-tractor-trailers-please/

The photo of the tractor trailer truck is something else. These trucks are seen all the time now at the gas stations. Mr. Kydes in the article seemed like he, along with the East Norwalk residents, was not for lowering under the bridge. Why the change of heart?

james gallacher January 16, 2019 at 5:21 pm

Mike – traffic already stacks up over the highway, which tends to be the problem. lights are not keeping up with the amount of the traffic using this area and what tends to happen is northbound traffic trying to go up east ave, or southbound on 95 have nowhere to go once they mix with traffic exiting from Northbound 95 making a left to head north on East Ave.

not trying to be a contrarian, and i do thing the DDI could work, but is it possible this is a light timing issue? Cars on the bridge are held there for way too much time and this causes bottlenecks.

this is the exit i use all the time. approaching from the South is a mess.

another topic (but related):
1
I would not be surprised if driving habits are being influenced by navigation apps like waze. there are local roads that have had little to no population growth in commercial nor residential, yet now have massive amounts of new traffic.

2
In the case of East Ave: part of this is probably from mall construction, but only a a small part. where are all of these extra cars coming from? 10 years ago traffic was only bad during the boat show and oysterfest. now it’s almost every day.

3
Allowing Left turns from Fort Point and onto Fort Point cause almost all of the bottleneck near the railroad bridge. there needs to be a light here if this action continues to be allowed. OR make this are 3 lanes with a center turning lane. Widening the bridge and making this 4 lanes might sound great on paper, but why waste millions of dollars reshaping the earth when you could just repaint the lines and enforce existing arrows?

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