Fairfield Avenue truck ‘ban’ nears reality — maybe

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.”


18 responses to “Fairfield Avenue truck ‘ban’ nears reality — maybe”

  1. anon

    There’s a reason for agendas. Will Rilling allow ‘off-agenda’ presentations at other committee meetings by others, not just his cheering squad?

  2. Yankee Clipper

    Who does Hal work for? He refuses to work with residents/taxpayers/voters. Time to go Hal

  3. John Hamlin

    It’s obvious that the big trucks can easily get off exit 14 (northbound) and go straight to West Avenue and make their way to MLK Blvd or Route 1. It’s also obvious that his position on this issue is a good reason to question the appropriateness of Mr Alvord continuing in his position. Astonishing.

  4. Just curious

    Where are they supposed to exit? If the trucks get off exit 13 their only option is to travel the post road which is always a nightmare in that area. If they get off exit 16 it only adds to the gridlock on East Avenue.Most of the trucks they are referring to are delivering necessary goods and products to South Norwalk businesses. It’s what drives out economy. The people that want this should just suck it up and deal with it just like the remainder of the citizens do on a daily basis.

  5. Mike Mushak

    Just Curious, you misunderstand the situation. No one wants to restrict trucks at Exit 14. The neighborhood simply wants heavy trucks over 26,000 lbs, which is the DOT Heavy Truck definition that needs CDL licenses, to stay on the roads that were designed for them, Reed St and West Avenue. They now take a 3 minute shortcut on the half mile long stretch of Fairfield Ave that has narrow sidewalks and thousands of residents, a stretch that includes a dangerous steep hill that forces trucks to accelerate loudly on the upgrade spewing clouds of black diesel exhaust into windows and playgrounds, and to brake loudly on the downgrade which is frightening if any trucks should ever lose braking control.

    The trucks also back up to the top of hill sometimes creating an obstacle to fire vehicles from the Volk Fire Station on CT Ave, which is why Fire Chief McCarthy also supports a weight limit on Fairfield Ave.
    This is a public safety and a public health issue, and there is a way around the irrational obstruction to get this done. The DOT has nothing to say if Norwalk has a legitimate public health and safety reason to impose a heavy weight limit on a local road, which it clearly does in this case.

  6. Oldtimer

    It won’t be quite as easy as Mushak claims, nor as difficult as Alvord makes it sound. It took a while, but a no-through-truck restriction was finally established through Rowayton and a weight restriction on Fairfield Ave can also be done. It would be helpful if Alvord supported the idea, but he doesn’t even live in Norwalk, and always seems to have an agenda of his own. It is well past time he retired again. Surely there are life long Norwalk residents better qualified.

  7. EastNorwalkChick

    Please tell me something, anything that Hal Alvord is in favor of that is good for this city….geesh.

  8. Ryan

    East Norwalk …Privatization of garbage and single stream recycling. Both saving the City Millions.

  9. Mike Mushak

    Old Timer, to be clear, this proposal is not a thru truck ban. It is a restricted weight limit , which is defined differently under state statute and is allowed in cases where a weight limit serves a public interest, in this case protecting public safety and health, and preserving infrastructure. The historic pipes under the marrow hilly street were never intended to support day and night heavy truck traffic, and for our DPW Director to not be concerned about this issue alone regardless of the public safety issue should be of great concern to all of us who pay his salary to protect our delicate infrastructure which could cost millions to fix if it crumbles under the constant vibration and compression of heavy trucks.

  10. Mike Mushak

    Anonymous, Hal Alvord was asked to put this item on the agenda lady Thursday, 4 days before the Monday night meeting. He is the staff member to the Traffic Authority. He did not respond to repeated emails, which other officials and residents were copied on, forcing Mayor Rilling to add it to the agenda himself. This was not a transgression by Mayor Rilling as you are quick to point out in your first post on this thread, but was a natural response to residents concerns as any good leader does in the face of a situation where a department head was unresponsive to a community. Do you think department heads have the right to ignore the taxpayers who pay their salaries? I know I don’t, and neither does the mayor unlike his predecessor.

  11. anon

    @Mushak do you mean that any taxpayer can ask that an item be added to an Agenda as long as asked for 4 days in advance?

  12. Oldtimer

    I understood that, thanks. In order to make it happen it would be very helpful if somebody with civil engineering credentials would go on record as sharing your concerns for the effect of the very heavy trucks on the old infrastructure. Truck of all sizes and weights have used Fairfield Ave for many years and I don’t think there is a record of infrastructure problems that can be attributed to very heavy trucks. I know of a lot of places that prohibit the use of exhaust brakes because of the noise and that should be easy, but making a case for a weight restriction absent evidence of weight related damage or a weight sensitive bridge will be more difficult. Even a record of problems with the pavement, potholes, etc. could help.

  13. John Hamlin

    If Mr Alvord would articulate in detail his reasons for advocating for heavy truck traffic on Fairfield Ave, we could consider his points. If he doesn’t reveal them, we will never understand why someone would be opposed to a limitation so obviously favorable to the residents and taxpayers.

  14. Mike Mushak

    Thank you Mr. Hamlin.
    Old Timer, those are sensible remarks. The truck traffic increased exponentially when the Rowayton ban went in, around 2006 or 7, and the trucks discovered the short cuts through the residential neighborhood back and forth to 95. The road became completely destroyed 3 years ago by the trucks, which is why we had to request an emergency paving job that was out of sequence from the normal paving schedule. The new paving job is now deteriorating, so it is costing the city much more in wear and tear because the street is not designed for the heavy trucks. In fact, the CT DOT Highway Design Manual, seen here http://www.ct.gov/dot/lib/dot/documents/dpublications/highway/cover.pdf, recommends a maximum grade of 11% for urban arterial streets such as this (it was a collector street but has become an arterial over time.)
    The grade on the steep hill is over 15%, which is way beyond safety standards for braking and accelerating for heavy trucks. That is why Hal Alvord’s position is so baffling. Everyone else can see the potential for tragedy here, as well as the serious pollution from diesel affecting the health of the residents. He is a licensed engineer sworn under oath to protect public health and safety, but I cannot see how he is doing this at all in this situation. It demeans the profession of engineer, honestly. I suspect if the folks were rich and white on that street, there would have been a weight limit years ago.
    Anon, I like your question. I would say yes to that, if you considered that we had been asking the previous mayor for 8 years to have this on the agenda, and it was requested by the Golden Hill Association that represents thousands of residents on this street. Is that enough criteria to add a Traffic Authority agenda item, in your mind, especially considering taxpayers pay Hal Alvord’s generous salary? Does the word Public Servant mean anything anymore? At least mayor Rilling understands that, which makes him a huge contrast to the former mayor who refused to listen to our concerns about this street for years.

  15. Mike

    As usual, Michael M. continues to over exaggerate. The steepest section of the road, just south of Golden Hill to Flax Hill Road, a distance of about 645 feet has a drop in elevation from 55 feet (from elevation 100 to elevation 45)giving it a slope of 8.5%, far from the 15% claimed. This can be easily verified from actual topographic information available on the web.

    Secondly, Fairfield Avenue has been classified as a minor arterial from at least the early 1980’s when road classifications became the vogue. Again this can be verified from historic records.

    Thirdly, Reed Street was built in the 1950’s to standards that would generally be characterized as a local road (approximately 3″ to 4″ of asphalt) with the utilities installed during that same period. It was never built or classified as minor arterial or as a truck route. Again this can be verified from construction drawings and historic records.

    Additionally,although I haven’t run the census number, it would seem that with only 45 properties on this section of Fairfield (from I-95 to Flax Hill Road), it seems hard to believe that there are THOUSANDS of people on that section of Fairfield Avenue.

    Lastly, several of the utilities on Fairfield were replaced in the 1990’s making the utilities on Fairfield Avenue much less antiquated than stated and much newer than those installed on Reed Street in the 50’s.

    Of course, none of these facts will stop Mr. Mushak from embellishing the story.

  16. anon

    @Mushak, I agree with you. Norwalk taxpayers pay overly generous salaries to all our public workers, not just the ones you seem to not like.

    There are some who think Rilling is collecting two salaries paid for by taxpayers.

  17. Mike Mushak

    Mike, thank you for your research, but your numbers are not accurate. I won’t comment on your nasty remark about over exaggerating, except to say you have diminished your point with a personal attack, and I suspect you are Hal Alvord or in his service, who is obsessed with keeping trucks on this narrow residential and steep street with narrow sidewalks with no safety buffer.
    You are stretching out the horizontal length and distorting the actual conditions on that stretch. The hill is broken up into various grades, and the steepest part has a 30 foot drop over 200 feet, a 15% grade. Also, the stretch that you measured is flattened out at the top and bottom and so you are intentionally distorting the actual grade calculation by including flatter stretches. Why would you do that except to attack a neighborhood’s position for wanting to solve a serious safety issue as anyone can see?
    Your comment about utilities is also inaccurate. We were told by the DPW specifically that they did not know the condition of all the utilities under Fairfield Ave when we discussed their condition related to the Cedar St project. As far as them being newer than Reed St, please offer official evidence because it is highly disputable unless evidence is offered. Also, trucks decelerating on steep hills often buck and vibrate much more than on lower grades, so you do have a more negative impact on the sub grade and utilities on a steep hill.
    Last, your comment about collector vs arterial supports my argument. I said this has become an arterial over time, which has lower grade change requirements than collector streets. I was referring to the history of the street when I said it evolved into an arterial from a collector, looking at old maps long before 1982. Your comment is just an obvious and transparent attempt to diminish a strong argument to protect public health and safety. Why?
    I invite anyone to go observe this stretch of road at peak hours, and even in the middle of the night, when large trucks navigating this steep dangerous hill disturb the quality of life and sleep habits of thousands of taxpaying residents. It is unacceptable and politicizing this issue as Mike is trying to do to just attack me personally is childish and petty.

  18. Mike Mushak

    I missed commenting on one more of “Mike”s preposterous statements meant o deceive in his post above. He asks how can there be thousands of people living on Fairfield when there are “only” 45 properties?

    Every one of those properties except one is a multi-family apartment building, condo, or public housing., some with over 30 units. These are NOT single or two family houses. Many of those units have families of up to 4 or 5 living in them. We have counted over 2,000 people living within one block of Fairfield, including properties directly affected by the truck traffic within a couple of hundred feet on Garner, Golden Hill, and Cedar. That is why this is such a crucial issue affecting the safety and quality of life a large number of folks.
    The other issue is fire response time by the NFD which is greatly hindered by long lines of trucks that back up on the hill waiting for the long light at Flax Hill at the bottom. That is why Fire Chief McCarthy supports this weight limit. No matter how you look at it, it is a public safety and health issue, and needs to be addressed by the city, no matter what dubious folks like “Mike ” above may claim ,to try to diminish its need.

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