NORWALK, Conn. – The City appears ready to conduct the overdue traffic study the school district needs if it wants to try again with changing high school start times.
In 2020, the Board of Education went ahead with its plan to give teenagers an extra hour of shut eye even if COVID-19 had prevented Norwalk Public Schools from doing a traffic study to research what impact the bus schedule changes might have. The buses weren’t full due to the pandemic and all seemed well, but last year, when more students went to school, many of them were late due to gridlock.
“It was a total disaster and they had to call it off,” Mike Yeosock, TMP (Transportation, Mobility and Parking) Principal Engineer, said last week. “So they would still like to have the study done just to complete their packet; it doesn’t mean that they’re going to move or not move (forward) but they would like to have the study done so they could answer people.”
“It would probably be year or so away” if the Board of Education decides to resume the changes to high school start times, he said. “They would just like to have to study and say whether or not they should continue to even look at changing bell times.”
FHI Studio, a Fitzgerald & Halliday, Inc. company, will do the study in the spring and fall if the Common Council approves its proposed $31,375 contract Tuesday. It’s an addition to FHI’s contract for a city-wide traffic master plan, so although the Board of Education is paying the expense with money budgeted in 2019, it needs Council approval.
It will be wasted money, according to Bryan Meek, a District D Republican who is likely to replace Tom Keegan on the Council, should Keegan go through with his plan to resign on July 1.
“Stop that traffic study. There’s no reason to do it right now,” Meek said Thursday to the Council Economic & Community Development Committee. “We don’t have a good viewpoint of what Strawberry Hill traffic really looks like until that bridge is completed.”
The Connecticut Department of Transportation is raising the Strawberry Hill Avenue bridge over Interstate 95 because it was hit multiple times by truck traffic. The work is expected to be complete in November 2023, Principal Engineer Vanessa Valadares said recently.
Meek also cited the U.S. Senate’s approval of the Sunshine Protection Act, which would make daylight savings time permanent in November 2023 if approved by the House and signed by President Biden.
“That right there should change that whole study and analysis,” Meek said. “Doing a hand count while Strawberry Hills under construction. … Just scrap it, table it, save the money, do it later.”
Assistant Director for Transportation Services Garrett Bolella and Council Majority Leader Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) called the latter a good point, with Smyth commenting she had also been thinking about the daylight savings time issue.
“I wouldn’t count on that going through,” said Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E), noting news reports that “nobody knew about” the vote.
“Any single senator could have blocked the daylight saving bill from passing but many didn’t know it was even happening,” BuzzFeed News reported.
Congress tried to change daylight savings in the 1970s but it was “reversed within months because it was such a disaster,” Smyth said. “But, it’s a good question.”
Bolella said he’d see if the consultants could address that in the study.
“I’ve heard the rumors and the talk of traffic and, and drop offs and just, you know, I guess the chaos of it all. I just wonder what spending $32,000 will solve,” said Economic & Community Development Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C).
“I imagine that part of the reason it was such a disaster is because they didn’t do the traffic study in advance,” Smyth said. “I think it needs to be done if this is something that they want to move forward with the school start time change.”
The Committee approved moving the contract to the full Council for a vote, with Keegan casting the only vote against the study.