NORWALK, Conn. — In yet another planned traffic improvement, the Department of Transportation, Mobility and Parking is looking to upgrade the intersection of Flax Hill Road and Highland Avenue.
An information session held Tuesday drew objections from one nearby neighbor and a plea from another, who said it’s almost impossible to exit his small side street.
The intersection needs work, with 17 crashes reported there between 2016 and 2020, two of them resulting in injuries, TMP (Transportation, Mobility and Parking) Principal Engineer Mike Yeosock said. There was also a fatal crash in 2014.
It’s been on the radar screen on and off, with the then-Southwest Regional Planning Agency doing a Safe Routes to Schools study in 2009 and then in 2012, consultants putting together a city-wide Transportation Master Plan interviewed the Flax Hill Neighborhood Association, Yeosock said. Out of those efforts, Safe Routes to School work was done between Witch Lane and Knollwood Road, and now phase II is about to address pedestrian safety between Charcoal Road and Meredith Court.
Director of Transportation, Mobility, and Parking James Travers explained he’s been on the job for about nine months and one of the first things he and Assistant Director for Transportation Services Garrett Bolella did was to look at grant funded projects, and see if they could be moved along.
“I knew that we had a Safe Routes to School grant for Highland and found this intersection. My first trip out there I have to say I was very confused,” Travers said. “I paused as I think many people do who are relatively new to the intersection.”
Travers and Bolella also recently announced heightened efforts to improve the Wall Street area and are advocating for “don’t block the box” markings where East Avenue meets Olmstead Place.
The federal Local Road Accident Reduction Program, administered by the Connecticut Department of Transportation, will pay 90% of the $375,000 cost to make TMP’s preferred alterations at Flax Hill and Highland, reducing the angles handled by drivers while keeping the center island thought to be a neighborhood gateway, Yeosock said. Data supports the plan to “tee up the intersection,” as 15 of the 17 recent accidents happened in clear weather, and 10 of them were between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. About 59% were rear-end collisions.
“It is a good project to look at to improve mobility and to improve safety,” Travers said.
Travers said he and Bolella were in the area Tuesday during dismissal time for the nearby Brookside Elementary School and “what struck me the most…was the amount of times that horns are beeping, right, which is a clear indication for us that there’s a problem. And I think we as transportation professionals have an obligation to look at opportunities to improve safety on our roadways.”
Not only does maintaining the island keep the neighborhood’s feel, but, “that’s also another unique opportunity for us to potentially plant really large trees that will grow to become the gateway and really have that as the as, you know, a grand entrance into the neighborhood,” he said.
“We’d really like to tie this in to a much larger project and much larger betterment of the neighborhood,” Travers said.
Transportation Planner Greg Pacelli explained that the Safe Routes to School phase II will install .7 miles of sidewalks, “ADA complaint ramps and crosswalks at all major driveways, especially at the schools, and also intersecting roadways as well throughout the entire length of the corridor.’
He said, “And on top of that, we’d also add some sidewalk segments on the southern travel lane approach as well, where we would add some ADA compliant ramps as well to get those who are coming from Devil’s Garden for instance, coming across and crossing the street onto Highland, to get them onto a sidewalk as well.”
A flashing beacon is also planned to slow traffic and help pedestrians cross the street, he said. It’s all been funded.
Scott Teed, a Westview Lane resident, said he and his neighbors “find it impossible to get out of the street,” just east of the Flax Hill/Highland Avenue intersection
The position of the stop sign means that they can’t take a left or right out of their street unless drivers allow them to do it, he said. A driver once fell asleep at the wheel, missed the island and smashed into his garage door.
Lisa Wilson Grant said she’s lived a couple doors down from the intersection for 20 years and she’s “never seen a collision” there, except for stopping cars getting rear ended.
“I think right now, it’s almost like a roundabout where people go. The only issue I have is sometimes people don’t stop and they go two at a time,” she said, suggesting a sign to discourage drivers from doing that.
Grant, a historian, said the “historic, graceful curve” dates to the 1600s and “I think the footprint of the way it is, is significant to the history of Norwalk.” Nathan Hale “came down this road on his fateful mission where he left Norwalk and went to Long Island Sound” and “George Washington came down this road.”
She predicted the planned changes would lead to more congestion and more emissions as cars idle.
Yeosock said TMP “strongly feels” the intersection will be improved “by tightening up the distance between the two approaches,” allowing cars to “get through there more quickly” and “less delay” due to “less driver confusion.”
Construction would begin next summer. TMP is accepting comments about the proposal through Dec. 15. Email [email protected] or contact Customer Service at 203-854-3200.