NORWALK, Conn. – The Golden Hill Association’s desire to keep heavy trucks off Fairfield Avenue is reaching the mayor’s office next week, despite the protestation of Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord.
Thousands of residents, mostly minority and lower-income, are subjected to safety and quality of life violations with a constant stream of heavy truck traffic day and night using the half-mile segment of Fairfield Avenue in South Norwalk between Exit 14 and Flax Hill Road, Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak said Monday night at the Traffic Commission meeting.
Mushak has been campaigning on this topic for more than a year. He brought it up at the recent Mayor’s Night Out. Mayor Harry Rilling asked the commission to go off agenda Monday night and allowed Mushak and Golden Hill Association Vice President Jim Clark to passionately present their case for an ordinance that would prohibit trucks that weigh more than 26,000 pounds from using Fairfield Avenue.
But first, a rebuttal from Alvord.
“We did a conference call with the Office of the State Traffic Administration,” Alvord said, after mentioning a Monday morning email. “A municipality can by ordinance establish weight restrictions on local roads. But there are restrictions on that. One of those is that you can’t establish such an ordinance if the intent is to de facto establish a through-truck prohibition. That would be defined in this particular case, they pointed out to us pretty quickly, that any street that has an off ramp from a limited access highway connecting to any section of it, you can’t put a weight limit restriction on it.”
Mushak is working off of information provided by state Sen. Bob Duff (D-25).
Duff also cited the Office of the State Traffic Administration as the source of his information in a March 27 email to David Westmoreland.
“We have done our research through Sen. Duff,” Mushak said. “This is not, as Mr. Alvord said, to do a de facto through-truck limit. This is because there is a very steep hill on Fairfield Avenue lined by residences the entire length. It’s a half a mile from Exit 14 to Flax Hill Road. It is a completely residential street lined with condos, rentals, some public housing. In general, there are 3,000 people, many low-income and minority people, that have a very high rate of asthma in that community. The diesel exhaust from trucks aggravates asthma, as we all know. And with a steep grade on that hill, there have been a lot of concerns of people over the years.”
Trucks going down the hill can be very loud as they use their brakes, he said. The hoped-for ordinance would dissuade semis and cement mixers from using the road, but continue to allow Fed-Ex trucks and the like up and down the steep hill, he said.
“The grade is not a normal grade for heavy trucks,” he said. “We also don’t know the condition of the infrastructure under the road. It’s ancient and the road is not designed for heavy trucks, the heaviest trucks that use that road as a shortcut to save a few minutes. The road that was designed for those trucks is Reed Street. … West Avenue and Reed Street were designed with the proper pavement for heavy trucks. Fairfield Avenue is a residential street, and the quality of life of the thousands of people who live there is seriously affected, including a friend of mine who died several years ago of an asthma attack in the middle of the night, tragically.”
Clark said Golden Hill residents have complained for many years. The South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA) has a long-range plan to redesign Fairfield Avenue to make it similar to the streets in SoNo, he said.
The ordinance would be “Better for the fire department, better for the city, better for the actual infrastructure itself,” he said.
“Putting up the signs is just the smart thing to do,” Mushak said. “It’s not going to stop all the heavy trucks but it will guide most of them down on the route that was designed for them and get them out of the residential neighborhood, which negatively affects people.”
Rilling said he would arrange a meeting “as early as next Tuesday” in his office.
“I certainly understand your concern,” he said. “But Mr. Alvord raises a very valid point. We have to look at what is allowed and what is not allowed, and I know you raised a conflicting point, which you said you were told by a state senator that you could do that. … We need to look at what we can and cannot do and discuss it.”