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Traffic engineers assert Main Avenue would improve with ‘BJs’ development

Michael Galante of Frederick P. Clarke Associates speaks to the Norwalk Zoning Commission on Wednesday in City Hall.
Michael Galante of Frederick P. Clarke Associates speaks to the Norwalk Zoning Commission on Wednesday in City Hall.

Correction, 4 a.m., March 27: Cars would take right hand turn from southern driveway, turn around in parking garage.

NORWALK, Conn. – Three letters are key to the defense of traffic studies that say a big box store will work on Main Avenue: D-O-T.

Traffic engineer Michael Galante used those letters over and over again Wednesday in responding to traffic allegations made on behalf of the Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners (NASH) as a key point of their fight against The Village, a big box store development planned for the Superfund site at 272-280 Main Ave.

Not only is the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) is in agreement with the work done by Galante’s firm, but the traffic analysis done on behalf of NASH was hurried and used inaccurate assumptions and old information, Galante said at Wednesday’s Zoning Commission public hearing.

Zoning Commissioners went on to ask a series of questions designed to address the public’s concerns, and then sent the application back to Committee.

Joe Fishinger of NV5, hired by the Commission to do a peer review of Galante’s work, continued to agree with Galante that the timing of the Main Avenue lights would mitigate the development’s traffic.

This last phase of the public hearing on the proposal was generated by traffic studies presented by NASH on March 15, during a hearing continued from March 1 just for the purpose of discussing traffic implications.

There’s no tenant announced for the big box store; opponents widely suspect it will be a BJ’s Wholesale Club because that was what was proposed for the site in 2013.

Attorney Liz Suchy began the rebuttal of the NASH traffic analysis, first saying that comments from the public damning the unknown nature of the big box store were not valid, as Zoning approves retail all the time without knowing who the tenant will be.

As an example, the Waypointe development on West Avenue has storefronts but no tenants were lined up when it was approved, she said.

While David Spear of DLS Traffic Engineering, a Hartford firm, said on March 15 that a WB67 tractor trailer would not be able to handle the driveway planned for The Village, Suchy said Galante’s design was precisely designed for that size truck.

DLS and Adler Consulting, NASH’s other traffic expert, used Galante’s August plans instead of his updated ones, she said.

Galante said his firm, Frederick P. Clarke Associates, has been studying Main Avenue for four years while the NASH consultants have looked at it for weeks.

ConnDOT and the Office of State Traffic Administration (OSTA) review the traffic plans for the project, as Main Avenue is a state road, he said.

“We have had discussions with DOT during that process,” Galante said. “I think they are in general agreement with everything that we have done.”

“DOT has reviewed and approved” the scope of the study, and “DOT has reviewed and approved” the traffic volumes, Galante said.

Architect Bruce Beinfield's rendering of "The Village," a plan for 272-280 Main Ave.
Architect Bruce Beinfield’s rendering of “The Village,” a plan for 272-280 Main Ave.

Opponents “disagree with that data but I don’t believe they talked to DOT,” he said. “…Everything we have done to analyze and include that in our model, DOT agrees with. So the way we approached it, they have been a part of that discussion and they agree with it. Eventually we will have everything in writing from DOT.”

The state shares its accident information with the traffic engineers but traffic engineers are not permitted to make that data public due to liability concerns, Galante said.

“I would guess (the NASH consultants) spent seven to 10 days looking at the documents,” and “I would guess they haven’t talked to city staff or NV5,” Galante said.

If another type of development were allowed to go onto the site you’d wind up with five or six driveways without the traffic mitigation plans that The Village can afford to implement, plans that will have state approval, he said.

That includes widening Main Avenue in front of the project, which The Village can do because it’s all one property and the applicant is willing to give the needed land to the state, Galante said.

The process with the state will continue for nine to 10 months, he said.

“We will not get a permit from OSTA or a permit from DOT unless we satisfy all of their conditions,” Galante said.

Zoning Commission Vice Chairman Lou Schulman asked if OSTA would allow public input as it reviews the traffic proposals.

No; the Department of Public Works will have input on behalf of the citizens, Galante said.

“Can the neighbors be assured that OSTA’s concerns mirror theirs?” Schulman asked, mentioning fears that drivers will leave Main Avenue and travel through neighborhoods.

“We don’t want traffic to divert to a local street,” Galante said. “That is a statement that, quite frankly, we are very serious about.”

Not only is the state process a year long but, “if there is something a year from now that didn’t work out the way we said it would we are obligated to fix it,” Galante said.

Another issue brought up on March 15 was the mountable curb planned for the right hand turn only driveway at the development’s southern end. That’s so emergency vehicles can go over it, Galante said.

“It is designed to accommodate the (largest) tractor trailer,” Galante said. “… The truck, unless he is a terrible driver maybe, he will not go over that mountable curb, that raised median.”

Schulman asked if an island could be installed in the middle of Main Avenue to keep drivers from turning left.

“I would doubt it because of the hazard of hitting it,” Galante said.

Commissioner Roderick Johnson asked about the developments planned for Glover Avenue.

The amount of traffic that will leave those apartment buildings and head for Main Avenue is actually very small, as drivers are expected to head for the Merritt Parkway or Glover Avenue and the Route 7 connector, Galante said.

“Our impact up in that area is well beyond the scope of our study,” Galante said, later adding, “Our study is bigger than what the DOT asked for.”

Schulman called up Fishinger, who said that the allegations made by NASH’s consultants were all addressed and resolved in the updated plans submitted by Galante.

The plan “is not going to solve every existing problem on Main Avenue, it’s going to mitigate their traffic, and maybe then some,” Fishinger said.

The lights on Main Avenue need to be retimed and coordinated whether or not The Village is constructed, he said.

“The timings haven’t been updated in a while and that’s a big part of the problems you’re seeing out there, the lights just aren’t talking to each other,” Fishinger said.

“This isn’t the city’s last bit at the apple. The city will still be involved through the design process,” Fishinger said.

As “just a caution,” Fishinger called Galante’s predicted disaster with the five or six driveways a “worst case scenario.”

“Good planning and good design would expect you to interconnect the lots,” Fishinger said. “Traffic won’t be as bad as he predicts in that scenario.”

The cars that leave via the southern driveway can reenter the parking lot at the traffic light and turn around within if they want to head south, using the light to make the left turn, Fishinger said.

The applicant is responsible for retiming the lights on Main Avenue, but once it’s done the applicant’s responsibility is only for the intersection in front of the store, Fishinger said.

Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn asked Fishinger if he thought the traffic situation on Main Avenue, with traffic lights that are not coordinated, is unusual.

“There is some system in place,” Fishinger said. “It’s antiquated. In a lot of cases the (detection) loops are present, it’s long since failed. The short answer is the state will get around to it eventually but the issue is they have got a lot on their plate, they just haven’t gotten to it. So, will they get to it? Eventually, I just don’t see it happening in the near future.”

Comments

10 responses to “Traffic engineers assert Main Avenue would improve with ‘BJs’ development”

  1. Mitch Adis

    What did I tell you! NoN pushed back on a statement I made regarding the traffic engineers claim this developmet would improve traffic. Looks like I was right! They said it themselves.

    So if I understand it correctly, if you simply synchronize the traffic lights all traffic dissapears. If, that is true, Connecticut Ave is a simple fix. I say fix Connecticut Ave first to prove this is true, then we can consider the development.

    1. They said it would improve traffic, previously. They didn’t say it would not generate traffic. They said the newly generated traffic would be mitigated and the road would be more driveable.

  2. Lee Levey

    To make Main Avenue truly functional, the road would have to be widened to five full lanes, including turn lanes. The five lanes would have to be wider than the eleven feet proposed by the applicant, and extend well beyond the length of the property frontage, north and south, for several hundred feet in each direction. The true barrier to widening Main Avenue is that some eighteen buildings have been constructed up to the property lines and would have to be moved, altered or demolished to accommodate a wider right-of-way.

  3. Mitch Adis

    If the traffic engineer is so sure of his study, why not guarantee it? Put some money at risk! If it fails we have funds set aside to correct the issues.

  4. david

    There is a disingenuous nature to the arguments being made, that were present in the last application. If traffic issues can truly be mitigated with traffic signal timings, then why aren’t those changes put in place today? We don’t need the inclusion of a big box store to keep traffic flow moving at an optimal level throughout this (or any) city.

  5. Andrew

    The worry here is that everything seems to be based on DOT doing what is brought up in this article. However, history and experience says that will not happen. So we will have another part of the city becoming a no go area just as Connecticut Avenue has become from the Darien border to past the hospital. The same organization is in charge of those lights and nothing has been done.

    And if the fix for Main Ave is so simple why hasn’t it been done already?

  6. Mitch Adis

    NoN censors comments! Half of my earlier coment was censored even though it conformed to the rule set by thi site! Very disappointing.
    Editor’s note: No comments have been altered.

  7. Jo-Anne Horvath

    Nancy,
    I have a question — I was at the meeting too and I thought I heard from the traffic engineer, that the employer of the “big box” store could say to their employees that if they wanted to make a left hand turn,
    and wanted to head south, then the employees could turn around in the parking lot using the light to make a left turn. In your article you mentioned something about the trucks doing this. Could you please clarify
    this for me. Thanks Jo-Anne

    1. You’re right, Joanne. Correction posted.

  8. Thomas

    West Rocks road is already my preferred bypass to the Main avenue mess. That traffic will only increase. On any given sunny Saturday, the car wash backs up traffic and now too the discount gas station. All the light timing in the world won’t stop insensitive drivers from blocking two lanes of traffic at the horrible, never-should-have-been-permitted exit of the donut place onto Main avenue. And now if we are to rely on the DOT (department of Traffic Jams) to alleviate the coming disaster on Main avenue then we are all in trouble. The same people who forgot the norther exit from Super 7 onto the Merritt parkway.

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