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End of the road for Route 7 connector terminus  6/12/3
Task force proposes building lanes above I-95  9/12/2
Orem's Diner -- To Go  7/2/2
Untying the Route 7 Gordian Knot 5/18/1
Commercial Property/Connecticut: Route 7 Corridor Gaining 4/23/1
WOMAN TAKES POETIC LOOK AT A ROAD OFTEN TRAVELED 1/19/1
The Hour -  Editorial - December 1, 2000 1/19/1
TRAFFIC RELIEF TO BE COSTLY, CONTROVERSIAL 1/19/1
Options for reducing congestion  
In response to a Danbury News-Times (12/2000) article by Richard Martinez.          
Build it.  They've already come.
 

End of the road for Route 7 connector terminus
By Matt Breslow, Staff Writer, June 12, 2003    Norwalk Advocate

NORWALK -- Several fatal car crashes have driven the state to redesign the end of the Route 7 connector, where a rock wall will be replaced with a ramp-like slope landscaped with shrubbery.  Five drivers have died at the end of the connector, slamming, intentionally or accidentally, into the rock outcrop on Grist Mill Road.

In response to two deaths last fall, the state Department of Transportation earlier this year did $15,000 in improvements at the site, including the installation of sand barrels and a bank of reflective chevrons.

"That was a temporary situation," said Timothy Wilson, transportation principal engineer at the DOT. "In conversation with the local officials out there, the department decided that a more permanent fix was appropriate, rather than the temporary fix we have out there now."

He said the state has decided to "piggyback" removal of the rock wall onto a larger DOT project in the Route 7 area scheduled to start next year.

A contractor will remove the outcrop, likely by drilling and blasting, said Daniel Gladowski, DOT project supervising engineer. It will be replaced by a 100-foot-wide slope stretching 40 to 50 feet back from the street, he said.

Gladowski said the slope, resembling the runaway truck ramps seen on some highways, will feature shrubbery designed to slow vehicles that drive off the road. The sand barrels added earlier this year will be removed, but the state intends to leave the bank of reflective chevrons to further slow cars.

Norwalk police Chief Harry Rilling said he is glad the state will remove the outcrop, a measure city officials requested in talks with the DOT after last fall's two fatal crashes. Rilling said it likely will save lives.

"It'll certainly reduce the chance of any accidental deaths in the area, and it will not provide an opportunity for any intentional actions," he said.

Mayor Alex Knopp said he's pleased the DOT agreed to create a more permanent solution for safety problems at what he called "an unfortunate and poorly designed termination point" for the highway.

"After the DOT agreed to make some short-term improvements, I asked . . . Commissioner (James) Byrnes to develop a long-range plan to make the intersection safer for high-speed collisions, because the temporary improvements would not have made the intersection safer for collisions in excess of 45 mph."

Gladowski said the state-funded initiative will cost about $30,000.

The work is being attached to a $27 million state project to improve the Route 7/Merritt Parkway interchange, said Thomas Harley, DOT principal engineer. The project involves widening the underpass where Main Avenue meets the Merritt and upgrading parkway entrance and exit ramps, he said.

Harley said some utility work is being performed, and the construction portion should start in winter or spring. The state will begin soliciting bids from contractors in the fall.

However, he said the first priority will be removing the Grist Mill Road rock wall and replacing the Glover Avenue bridge over the Norwalk River with a wider span with more lanes approaching Main Avenue.

The project is slated to last two years, but removing the rock wall and replacing the Glover Avenue bridge should be completed next year, Harley said. The state plans to begin joining the Route 7 connector to the northbound Merritt Parkway in two years, he said.

Copyright © 2003, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.                     top of page

Task force proposes building lanes above I-95
By Jonathan Lucas, Staff Writer   Stamford Advocate, September 19, 2002

With no room to expand highways outward, some members of the state's blue-ribbon transportation task force say the only answer is to build upward.  A Transportation Strategy Board subcommittee has drafted a preliminary recommendation calling for adding capacity to Interstate 95 by building a second tier of lanes over the existing highway from Greenwich to New Haven.

The Movement of Goods and People Working Group's draft proposals also called for widening the Merritt Parkway, completing the Super 7 expressway from Norwalk to Danbury and expanding Interstate 84 from two to three lanes.

State Public Safety Commissioner Arthur Spada was co-chairman of the group that drafted the recommendations. He said expanding highways by decking would alleviate congestion and improve highway safety by possibly segregating cars and trucks.

"This isn't a frivolous idea," Spada said. "A lot of serious thought is being given to it and a lot of legislators believe that it has merit."

Spada said the proposal is the best vision for the next 25 years and is the most cost-effective and expedient way of solving the state's transportation problems.

But the recommendations, made earlier this month, hit a major roadblock yesterday when a TSB advisory committee representing southwestern Connecticut's interests passed a resolution denouncing the proposals as shortsighted.

"This would bring tremendous additional traffic into the southwestern corner of the state and worsen air quality in the area," said Franklin Bloomer, a Greenwich resident who is co-chairman of the TSB's Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area.

The committee has placed a strong emphasis on public and alternative forms of transportation and has generally opposed the expansion of highways.

"I can't imagine (the subcommittee) coming up with what I've heard, if they listened to our recommendations," said James Cameron, vice chairman of the Metro-North-Shoreline East Rail Commuter Council, who serves on the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area. "Their recommendations show an incredible lack of imagination."

However, the proposal drew some support from representatives outside of Fairfield County.

"I don't think that decking is such a wild idea," said Judy Gott, executive director of the South Central Regional Council of Governments, which represents 15 municipalities in the New Haven area. "You can't just sit here in Fairfield County and say 'no new roads.' People drive cars. You can have every train in the world, but you need additional highway capacity."

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is developing plans to expand the I-95 Pearl Harbor Bridge across the Quinnipiac River in New Haven and widening the highway through West Haven.

Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell said there are other alternatives, including exit closures and using barges to move freight, that should be explored first before the rash step of decking is considered.

R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, chairman of the TSB, did not attend yesterday's meeting, but said any working group recommendation should be considered, but is not necessarily going to be adopted.

"This is not something novel, it's worked very successfully in California," Spada said. "Trains may help, but, between buying the additional trains and setting up more tracks, it could take up to a decade."

Spada said since the state would not have to buy or take land for adding a second tier, it would be far cheaper than widening the highway.

However, DOT spokeswoman Margaret Rioux said the cost of such a project would be extremely prohibitive.

"Anything's possible, but right now it's not because of the funding costs," Rioux said.

State Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, said the proposal is completely out of the question, adding that the only way to solve the traffic problem is by using more public transportation.

"The idea of decking a highway is virtually unheard of in the United States," Nickerson said. "Above all, it's an anti-solution. You're taking the problem and mathematically squaring it so by the time you're done, you'd be worse off. Nobody in America has ever drove their way out of a highway problem by building more highways."       top of page

Orem's Diner -- To Go 
Landmark plans move to make way for Route 7 work
By Jonathan Lucas       Staff Writer 7/2/02 - Stamford Advocate

WILTON -- The future of Route 7 has been debated for almost 50 years and many of those discussions have taken place at Orem's Diner.  The popular meeting spot and familiar landmark for commuters along the busy corridor is expected to be torn down next year to make way for the expansion of Route 7, but Orem's will live on.

The diner's owners plan to open a new Orem's this fall. Located a half-mile south of the current restaurant, the site was carved from a piece of land the state originally bought for the extension of "Super 7" from Norwalk to Danbury.  Plans to extend the superhighway between the two cities have been abandoned, but the state Department of Transportation is moving ahead with an estimated $25 million project to widen the existing two-lane road to four lanes along a 21Ž2-mile stretch from the intersection of Route 33 to Olmstead Hill Road in Cannondale.  Orem's is among more than 30 properties affected by the widening project and is one of the few that stands directly in the road's path.

"We're not happy about being displaced, we're losing the building and all the history it has," said Jim Papanikolaou, 24, who runs the diner with his father, Vasilios "Bill" Papanikolaou. "My father built it up to what it is today, and we've made a good living here and have a lot of emotional ties."  Bill Papanikolaou emigrated from Greece in 1972 and saved to buy Orem's in 1980. While Papanikolaou owns the diner, the 81-year-old commercial block building best known for its hand-painted wooden parapet is owned by Young's Nurseries.  

To make way for the road, the nursery will move its parking lot and the nearby gas station will relocate two of its pumps.  Wilton planning officials had hoped part of Orem's distinctive facade could be used at the new building, but Papanikolaou said much of the wood on the existing building is rotting and cannot be moved.  The new Orem's will be about twice the size of the current diner. The prefabricated building is being manufactured in New Rochelle, N.Y., and Papanikolaou said when complete it will look identical to the historic building.  The building was originally constructed in 1920 as an ice cream stand by Charles Orem. A year later, he added a lunch counter and opened the diner.

Wilton First Selectman Paul Hannah said he's glad the town won't be losing Orem's, adding that the demolition of the building will not be a big loss.  "The building is interesting architecturally, but in terms of a beautiful, well-crafted building that will be lost, I don't believe that's the situation," Hannah said. "It's just an old building."

Regular customers last week said they'll miss the comfortable feel of the old diner, but are looking forward to the opening of the new one.  "It'll be exciting when they open up the other place," said Dave Ganz, 46, a upholstery business owner in Trumbull who eats at Orem's at least twice a week to meet with clients.

Michael Crystal, an industrial psychologist in Wilton who has been coming to Orem's once a week for the past five years, said he is concerned about possible traffic problems at the new location.  "I'm not eager to see the move only because of what I perceive to be potential traffic problems," Crystal said. "I love the idea of them staying in town, I love the idea of them staying open, I'm just unsure of the impact on traffic."

The Papanikolaous have been working with the state for three years to reach an agreement for the 1.5 acres of land for the new building. The Papanikolaous bought the land for $463,000 in a deal finalized last month.  Republican state Rep. Toni Boucher, who represents Wilton's 143rd District, helped secure the property for Papanikolaou by drafting special legislation passed two years ago for the DOT to sell the property.

Boucher said she did not want Orem's to disappear, adding that the land transfer became one of her pet projects in the Legislature.  Orem's is a meeting place where town business is initiated, business deals are made and local clubs get together, Boucher said.

"In an area of great affluence, Orem's is a place where for under $5 you can get a great meal," said Boucher, who's been going to the diner for 20 years. "It's an everyman's place where you can sit down next to truck drivers and extremely wealthy people, and everybody's treated the same. And I think we need a place like that, we need a place for regular folks."

Copyright © 2002, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.   

Untying The Route 7 Gordian Knot                                                top of page
By Congressman Jim Maloney

Every day commuters in Western Connecticut find themselves facing major traffic gridlock as they try to get to and from work on the Route 7 corridor. Many residents that once had a commute of 20 to 30 minutes now spend upwards of 40 to 50 minutes. Some commuters are even on the road for an hour or more. Automobile traffic in the Route 7 corridor gets worse and worse every year.

This traffic is also forcing commuters to seek out alternative routes of travel. And these alternatives are themselves a growing problem. Our neighborhood back roads and cross-town streets in Wilton and Ridgefield are not designed to handle large traffic volumes.

If we fail to resolve the Route 7 crisis, local traffic congestion will only intensify until our back roads become just as dangerous and overcrowded as Route 7 itself. Indeed, that has already occurred in several areas. Even residents who oppose a Route 7 expressway recognize that an unacceptably high price is being paid in terms of noise, congestion and increased safety hazards in our neighborhoods.

For too long the Route 7 issue has been a sterile debate. People supporting a Route 7 expressway have cited the self-evident, and growing, traffic problems. They also argue that automobile congestion is an assault on the quality of life that we in mid-Fairfield County find so valuable. The other side has argued that a Route 7 expressway would physically partition our towns (particularly Wilton), would bring noisy trucks into our communities - especially at night - and an expressway would also tend to accelerate "suburban sprawl."

That has been the back-and-forth of the Route 7 debate for nearly forty years. Both sides are right from their own perspectives, but neither side has been successful in solving the underlying problem. That is the tangle of the Route 7 Gordian Knot.

Over the past four years I have taken several steps to address Route 7. In 1997 I sponsored a forum that took an in-depth look at the Route 7 arguments, and encouraged the State to take a fresh look at its own various proposals. Unfortunately, frozen in-place by the countervailing pressures exerted by the pro-and anti- Route 7 forces, the State has simply given up on any real solution.

I then proposed that the State and/or the local towns request a "Major Investment Study" (MIS) of the entire corridor. In distinction to the State’s "top down" planning process, an MIS is a community driven "grass roots" look at the problem. Although I have been assured by the U.S. Department of Transportation that the Federal government would be willing to pay the costs of such a "grass roots" review, both the State and the local towns have been unwilling to make the request. Opponents of an expressway are concerned that an MIS would end up calling for an expressway. Conversely, proponents of the expressway are concerned that an MIS – which would look at the corridor’s full range of transportation options (such as the creation of a van-pool system, or an Internet based ride-sharing program) – would FAIL to call for an expressway.

With the gordian knot still firmly fastened, I then worked separately on the Route 7 parallel rail-line from Danbury to Norwalk. Since both opponents and proponents of the expressway agree that the rail-line needs improvement, I secured a $2 million federal grant to conduct a comprehensive design work-up, now underway, of priority improvements and modernizations of the rail service.

Meanwhile, State officials have attempted to force a "compromise." The State’s proposal is to substantially widen the exiting Route 7, turning the two lane Route 7 into a four lane surface highway. Like many "compromises," the State’s mandate is a cure worse than the disease. Look at "Old Route 7 North" in Brookfield or "US 1, the Boston Post Road" through lower Fairfield County, for examples of expanded surface roads. Both expansions have only served to attract a plethora of strip malls, shopping centers, gas stations, and fast food restaurants. While there is some temporary congestion relief, a bad situation is ultimately made even worse. For every lane you add, you also add the need for more access-ways and stop lights to accommodate shoppers who are drawn to the strip developments.

Contrary to the concerns expressed by some, an MIS does NOT have a pre-determined result. Instead, an MIS would give us the opportunity to seriously explore all creative options for solving the Route 7 knot. It has been suggested, for example, that a specially designed parkway – not an expressway – might be a key component. The parkway would be built into the topography of the land to prevent it from dividing our towns. It would hug the landscape, running between – not through – our hills, and avoiding – not destroying – our wetlands. Very importantly, our existing East – West neighborhood roads would not be blocked – as they would with an expressway. Instead, they would continue in place, with the parkway unobtrusively passing beneath.

With the construction of a parkway, we would also keep the existing two lane Route 7 which would function as a local service road. The parkway would serve only automobiles – no truck’s allowed – so that by late evening, traffic would be down to a quite trickle.

The parkway would also have very few interchanges, only two or three, including an interchange at the Danbury/ Ridgefield border, one at the Ridgefield/Wilton border in the Georgetown area, and, possibly one near Wilton Center, if the town desires. That would limit the "sprawl effect." In contrast, both the widening approach and an expressway with multiple interchanges would make "sprawl" worse by attracting traffic and development.

A cars-only, environmentally sensitive parkway would draw off existing traffic that is using surface Route 7, as well as the traffic cutting through the back roads of our towns. Deployed in combination with improvements to the rail line, a properly designed parkway could be key to a Route 7 solution.

Commercial Property/Connecticut: Route 7 Corridor Gaining as Site for Office Buildings
BY ELEANOR CHARLES 04/22/01    NY TIMES      
                   top of page

East of Stamford where Route 7 heads north from Norwalk to the border of Massachusetts, the so-called Route 7 Corridor from Norwalk through Wilton has been coming into its own as a preferred site for office buildings. Some new construction is taking place, but more than a million square feet of existing offices along the route have been acquired by a single concern: the 26-year- old Davis Companies of Boston and Wilton. Keeping an eye out particularly for departing corporate headquarters, Davis acquired four properties vacated through mergers and relocations by Emery Air Freight, Dun & Bradstreet, Perkin-Elmer and Purdue Pharma.

All but the former Perkin-Elmer headquarters, the most recent acquisition, have been renovated and completely leased or sold to raise investment cash but still managed by Davis.

Davis bought its first Connecticut property in 1993 at 1250 Post Road in the town of Fairfield, followed in 1996 with the purchase of 35 Nutmeg Drive in Trumbull. In 1997, it bought the former Dun & Bradstreet headquarters at 187 Danbury Road (Route 7) in Wilton and in 1998 built the 158,000-square- foot Reservoir Corporate Center in Shelton, which is now fully leased. "We sold them all," said Paul Marcus, 42, partner and president of the Davis Companies, "retaining management of the Danbury Road and Trumbull buildings, and we are approved to build two office buildings totaling 245,000 square feet on the 20-acre Shelton site."

The cost of buying and renovating the Trumbull, Fairfield and 187 Danbury Road buildings was $31.7 million. They were sold for $58 million. The money from sales was put into other Wilton and Route 7 purchases. Davis is a private real estate investment, management and development concern specializing in buying existing buildings at minimal cost and renovating and repositioning them as first-class office space. Davis bought distressed mortgage loans and parlayed them into apartment ownership during the recession of the late 80's and early 90's. It was following a practice successfully put into place by W&M Properties of Manhattan and Stamford during the Depression of the 1930's.

After those moves, both companies were able to buy various commercial properties and turn them into Class A office space. The only major difference is W&M's tendency to hold onto its properties, while Davis sells about half of what it has bought and improved. "We've carved a niche for ourselves," said Jonathan G. Davis, 48, founder and chairman of the company, "as value-added investors with a long-term view and long- term equity capital available to us."

Mr. Davis calls himself "a bootstrap entrepreneur," having jumped into real estate right out of Brandeis University with the purchase of a two-family house in Boston. "Our 50-50 strategy about buy versus hold has been a great approach," he said, "generating operating capital and a hedge against inflation and market downturns. We're encouraged by the fact that there is so little new supply and sources of capital are relatively disciplined." Anthony Malkin, president of W&M, which has the same general philosophy as Davis, said: "

We pursue the properties we want aggressively, but we are not simply accumulating square footage. We produce a consistent package of amenities: conference rooms, fitness centers, dining facilities and locations near mass transportation. I have a high regard for Davis, and have no problem with their doing the same thing. Private, well-capitalized ownership is good for the real estate market."

W&M, the suburban arm of Wien & Malkin, a fourth-generation family-owned investment, management and development company in Manhattan, has 2.5 million square feet of office, retail and residential properties in Westchester and Fairfield Counties. Wien & Malkin has 8.5 million more square feet in Manhattan, plus divisions operating out of eight offices around the country and in Europe. Comparatively a fledgling, the Davis Companies has 4.5 million square feet of office, retail and residential properties in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Connecticut. "The Malkins," said David P. Fiore, 44, senior vice president in charge of Davis's Connecticut properties, "are our closest competitor.

We have nothing but admiration for them. Every property they bought we would have bought. We are constantly searching for properties and negotiating for them, and our finished product must meet Class A standards." As many amenities as are appropriate are provided, and locations are sought near public transportation. Mr. Marcus, who joined the Davis Companies in 1992, said, "We made a strategic decision to invest in the central Fairfield County-Route 7 corridor versus going into Stamford." The reasons he cited were land available for new homes, the highly rated Wilton and Weston schools, top executives living in Weston, Wilton and New Canaan, and the reverse commute from New York, White Plains and Stamford.

In 1998, Davis bought 200 Connecticut Avenue (Route 1) in Norwalk, a former Purdue Pharma headquarters now leased to Cendant, and in 1999 it acquired the vacant former Emery Freight building on Route 7 next to the Wilton station and town center. Badly neglected, it was gutted and rebuilt with the addition of a small day care center. It is occupied by Commonfund, a nonprofit institutional money management firm. Davis continues to own both buildings. Acquisition and transformation of the 33- acre Perkin-Elmer site at 50 Danbury Road (Route 7) in Wilton from its use as a manufacturer of analytical instruments to upscale offices will cost the Davis Companies an estimated $90 million.

Its first tenant, A.I.G. Financial Products, a subsidiary of American International Group, has signed a long-term lease for 65,584 square feet. Once the remaining Perkin-Elmer employees move out next month, renovation of 260,000 square feet in two brick buildings and construction of an additional 200,000 square feet in two new buildings will begin. The existing cafeteria, 150-seat auditorium, fitness center, outdoor tennis court, volleyball and basketball courts, picnic groves, and jogging-walking trails will be upgraded, and extensive landscaping is under way along the Route 7 frontage, where the company is installing a landscaped 800-foot-long walkway for the public.

In 1999, Perkin-Elmer sold its analytical instrument business and its name to EG&G, a government contractor that changed its name to PerkinElmer Instruments, in Shelton. Perkin-Elmer's life sciences division, based in Foster City, Calif., and its applied biosystems division, based in Rockville, Md., is now called Applera and will move with 130 employees from the Wilton headquarters to the 1.2 million-square-foot Merritt 7 Corporate Park in Norwalk. About 155,000 square feet of office space at 50 Danbury Road will be available in the fall, Mr. Fiore said, and rents will be at market rates for the area, $30 to $35 a square foot annually, compared with $40 to $45 in Stamford.

New construction on Route 7 in Norwalk has begun at Merritt 7 on a 255,000-square- foot building at the southern end of its string of five buildings. Building and Land Technologies of Wilton recently completed a 235,000-square-foot conversion of a former Caldor's into offices called Merritt on the River and expects to start work on a new 350,000-square-foot building next to Merritt 7 this month.

The central Fairfield County market, which includes Norwalk, Wilton, Darien, Weston, New Canaan and Westport, has the potential for adding three million to four million square feet of commercial real estate in the next few years, according to area brokers. Estimates by realty brokerages of current office inventory range from 5.6 million to 8.7 million square feet. The consensus is that growth is migrating east and north of Stamford and Greenwich, to areas where costs are lower and properties available. There are always the caveats that zoning restrictions will forbid knocking down an existing building to put up a bigger one, or new construction, renovations and additions will be rejected under zoning regulations. And a town can use its regulations to discourage a developer from pursuing approval of a project in the first place. In the current uncertain economic climate, brokers are reluctant to talk about market activity for fear of upsetting potential deals. Some say the impact so far has been minimal, others feel that it has become difficult for corporate chiefs to make commitments and still others see slowdowns to dead stops, prompting some owners to increase work allowances and free rent to attract new tenants. Central Fairfield County towns, usually conservative about development, have little left to develop. "Weston has no space," said Jeffrey Dunne, senior vice president of investments at CB Richard Ellis in Stamford. "New Canaan, Darien and Westport have very little. Only Norwalk and Stamford are pro-development. Wilton is more neutral. It wants quality and will work with you to get it the kind of thing Davis does."

Danbury News Times
January 2, 2001

WOMAN TAKES POETIC LOOK AT A ROAD OFTEN TRAVELED                              top of page
by Martin Schneider

Cars piled up on Route 7 day after day near her Wilton home.  Traffic congestion made running errands difficult and travel north to Danbury even harder.  But Beth Morgan didn’t get angry or frustrated.  Instead, the traffic became her muse.

Morgan, who lives less than a mile from Route 7, was inspired to write a poem last year about the region’s main north-south route, detailing her concern about the road and hope for a long-term solution to the congestion.

“The traffic is just horrible on every day of every week all through the year,” Morgan said.  “This as just a different way for me to get people and officials around the area to understand the problem here.”

The poem – written in the vein of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” begins:

‘Twas commuting time in the Connecticut state,
Hardly a car was traveling, perhaps it was fate.
But
lo on Route 7, it was quite a different story,
With cars all jammed up and tempers a soaring.

“Writing about the traffic is just another way for me to deal with it.  It’s a daily nightmare and a daily headache, “ she said.  In her poem, Morgan calls for the construction of “Super 7,” a Route 7 expressway to ease the traffic troubles.

But the sate Department of Transportation has all but abandoned plans for a four-lane expressway from Danbury to Norwalk in favor of a plan to widen limited portion of the road.

Improvements to Route 7 are also planned in Brookfield and New Milford as DOT officials look to make travel on the region’s main north-south route more manageable.  But Morgan said she thinks the expressway is the only long-term traffic solution, writing:

The back roads are jammed with speeding cars galore,
Putting local safety at risk and then there’s lots more.
The
commuters keep saying as they drive down the road,
Super 7 is needed cause of traffic overload.

Morgan belongs to a group of more than 20 area residents called the Committee for the Extension of Route 7.  The organization has collected more than 6,000 signatures on a petition to get the expressway project back on the table.

“Getting this project back on the radar screen is important for the future and the safety of our area,” Morgan said.  “We can’t have a short-term solution to this problem.”  

The Hour -  Editorial - December 1, 2000                                top of page
The state Department of Transportation has told Wilton town officials that it’s serious about plans to widen segments of the old Route 7.  DOT is hoping to begin work by March 2002.  Good luck.

At the request of local officials.  DOT has tinkered with the original plans, trimming lanes by a foot to 11 feet, and allowing for 4-foot shoulders on each side.

The major part of this project will include widening a 2.8-mile stretch of the old highway from Wolfpit Road to Olmstead Hill Road.

DOT, ever optimistic, says that a system of 10 coordinated traffic lights will regulate traffic.  We have reservations about that, despite modern technology.

The town will have to deal with a certain amount of disruption once construction begins with the total project expected to take two to three years to complete.

Growth of the town argues for a better solution, and this is completion of the new Route 7 north to Danbury.  Anything short of that is just a patchwork attempt at an answer.

We know that Gov. John G. Rowland has pronounced the project dead, but he’s the same person who proposed shutting down the Danbury railroad line and said the New England Patriots would come to Hartford.

It’s true we may never see the road extended.  What we will see is more congestion on a highway that, even with the proposed fix-ups, won’t be able to cope with the burgeoning traffic.

Associated Press
TRAFFIC RELIEF TO BE COSTLY, CONTROVERSIAL        
                            top of page
By Matthew Daly and John Christoffersen

Connecticut officials have taken the first step toward tackling traffic congestion by recognizing it as a top priority.  But like the highways themselves, there are major roadblocks in the way of long-term solutions.  A major challenges, as always, will be money.

Proposals likely to be considered by the Legislature in the session that starts Jan. 3 – such as widening highways or expanding mass transit – could wind up costing billions of dollars over the next decade.

Creating a passenger rail service from New Haven through Hartford to Springfield, Mass., which supporters tout as part of a fledging “Knowledge Corridor,” could prove particularly costly.

The financial challenge may be aggravated because lawmakers reduced the state’s gas tax – the nation’s highest – by 7 cents per gallon as of July 1.  The tax cut was widely supported, but lawmakers say its effect on the transportation fund should not be discounted as the state looks to improve its transportation infrastructure.

No one is suggesting that the gas tax cut be reversed.  But some advocates are looking at innovative ways to fund transportation projects.

The Connecticut Regional Institute for the 21st Century, which sponsored an influential report by transportation consultant Michael Gallis, recently suggested increasing the state sales tax to fund transportation projects.

Such a proposal is likely to meet resistance from lawmakers wary of raising taxes, particularly during an economic boom.  But institute members say the public may support a modest increase if it can be shows the money would be devoted exclusively to transportation issues.

A second challenge involved bureaucracy.  Connecticut’s strong tradition of home rule, along with layers of government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels, make it difficult to implement projects such as highway improvements, but service between towns, and badly needed parking expansions at train stations.

Improvements to Route 6 in eastern Connecticut, for instance, have floundered for more than 30- years as neighboring towns’ battle each other and the state and federal governments bicker over the best route for a proposed expressway.

Gov. John G. Rowland and legislative leaders have formed a Transportation Strategy Board charged with developing a comprehensive plan to solve problems involving the roads, rails, air and sea.  The board is expected to deliver a report to the Legislature by Feb. 1.

While there is a natural temptation to focus on immediate solutions, it is more important to recognize the scope of the problem, said Nelson “Oz” Griebel, a former BankBoston executive who chairs the transportation panel.

“We need to build a consensus around our long-term goals and get a lot of people involved before we get to project lists,” Griebel said.  “We didn’t get into this overnight and we’re not going to get out of it overnight.”

A third challenge involves geography.  It traffic congestion is perceived primarily as a Fairfield County problem, other parts of the state may be reluctant to spend large sums of money to reduce bottlenecks.

On the other hand, progress is more likely if it becomes clear that congestion threatens the overall economy and affects commuters throughout the state.

A recent transportation summit, where government and business leaders identified transportation as a key problem was held in East Hartford rather than Stamford in part because officials wanted to show transportation problems affect the whole state, not just Fairfield County.

While elected officials struggle with financial, bureaucratic and regional challenges, the private sector is becoming increasingly involved in the issue – out of necessity. Business leaders are worried about the effect of the congestion on the economy.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the state’s largest business group, feels so strongly about the issue that it plans to put up billboards highlighting the problem and may even do TV ads, said association President Ken Decko.

Increased attention by itself will not solve the problem, Decko said, but it’s a first step.  “The dynamics have definitely changed” since the Gallis report was issued in late 1999, Decko said.  “More people are interested in changing things.”  

And Decko and others said the problems, while serious, can be solved.  To reduce congestion on Interstate 95, for instance,  “we don’t have to take all the cars off,” Decko said.  “If we can just reduce some of that congestion, it might eliminate the stop-and-go.” 

Some businesses have taken a proactive approach, offering vanpools, flexible starting times and telecommuting options to their employees.  Pitney Bowes in Stamford offers shuttle services from the train to work, as well as transit vouchers and subsidies for employees who use vanpools.

Purdue Pharma even leased a parking lot in Fairfield to encourage its employees to take the train after the pharmaceutical company moved its office this summer from Norwalk to Stamford.

Some companies offer flexible starting times to employees as a way to ease congestion during rush hour – and idea Rowland said he wants to study.

In some cases, employees may not have to come in at all.  “Telecommuting,” by computer may be the wave of the future, experts say.  A final challenge is cultural.  Expanding mass transit will require a change for commuters in the “Land of Steady Habits” who are attached to driving their cars – alone – to work each day.

It won’t be easy.  Four of five motorists in Connecticut drive alone, according to the DOT; an underwhelming 4 percent of state residents use mass transit.  State officials are trying to tackle the cultural change by hiring a marketing firm to convince more commuters to take trains, van pools and other alternatives to driving alone.

But marketing alone will not be effective if the obstacles to mass transit in Connecticut are not addressed, including overcrowded trains and buses and few mass transit options in vast areas of the state.  In the end, it may not be money, bureaucracy or geography that poses the greatest challenge, but the change in outlook required of commuters and officials alike.  

Even among those pushing the hardest for change, old habits die-hard.  State Sen. Biagio “Billy” Ciotto, D-Wethersifield, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee and a member of the Transportation Strategy Board, conducted a revealing experiment at a recent meeting.

While members of the panel designed to cut down on traffic congestion, Ciotto wondered, traveled to the meeting site in Rocky Hill by any means other than a car?  Of nearly 30 people in attendance, only one hand went up – and it wasn’t Ciotto’s.

“These are the habits and customs were have.  It’s ingrained with us, “ Ciotto said.  “We've got a long way to go.”

Options for reducing congestion                                        top of page
Solutions being considered to reduce congestion in the state:

Source:  Connecticut Transportation Summit 2000 and AP staff reporting.

In response to a Danbury News-Times (12/2000) article by Richard Martinez. Richard.Martinez@po.state.ct.us                                                              top of page
Just a bit of history on the roadway recommendations in this corridor. In the late 80's, the department had a proposed design to construct a 4 lane expressway from the Merritt Parkway to route 1-84. In fact, the department had purchased nearly 95% of the property needed to build the new roadway.

Unfortunately, due to both public and elected officials opposition, especially in the town of Wilton, and financial constraints, the department concluded that it would only extend the expressway to the route 7/33 intersection and then improve, via expansion to 4 lanes, Route 7 north of that point to I-84. Additionally, the legislature enacted statutes that directed the department to retain the purchased land for future transportation purposes. Additionally, the legislature directed that if the department were to, in the future, propose a new roadway, that it would be required to "start from scratch" in analysis and assess roadway locations, notwithstanding the rights-of-way that it owned.

As you may be aware, the department held public hearings about 18 months ago for the extension of route 7 north of the parkway. Again, local state representatives, local elected officials and a large portion of the attending residents opposed the construction of this portion of the expressway. As such, the department heeded to the local desires and has dropped the extension in favor of widening the existing roadway to 4 lanes, which is presently under design. Though i understand there is still some support for an expressway in the corridor, it is incumbent upon those supporters to interact with their locally elected state and town officials to petition the department to analysis alternatives. The department will not advance any options other than improving the existing roadway without a clear and definitive action of the town legislative body and the area's state delegation. We will continue to advance the improvements, which have received local support and consensus.

Build it. They've already come. by Tom Dryden (for 11/27/00 Wilton Villager)                 top of page
In "Field of Dreams," a farmer hears a voice whispering, "Build it and he will come." This prompts him to drop everything and construct a baseball diamond in a cornfield. A pro team featuring the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson materializes out of thin air to play on his field of dreams. He builds it. They come.

Nice story. But this particular column is about reality, and it's probably not going to win me any popularity contests, so here goes.
(Deep breath.)
I'm for Super 7. 
I know that this superhighway from Norwalk to Danbury, first proposed in the 1950s, is supposedly dead. Governor Rowland announced last winter that the money to build it isn't there.

I know, too, that countless anti-7 petitions have been circulated, and that for years Wiltonites have fought tooth and nail to keep one square inch of concrete from encroaching on our town's fair fields, hills and meadows. I signed some of those petitions back in the mid-'80s when I moved here believing that by doing so, I could preserve our town's charm. Wilton seemed like a country town back then. 

But Wilton has changed, Route 7 hasn't, and even when it's widened, it won't be able to handle the traffic.

Over the last decade, hundreds of new houses -- many with three-and four-car garages --have gone up, spilling hundreds of additional vehicles onto our roads. Huge apartment complexes, whose tenants have to get to and from work, and around town, have been built.

The Emery Building has re-opened, attracting several hundred office workers who now pass through the intersection of 7 and Ridgefield Road each weekday.  A new office building that appears to be roughly the size of New York's Javits Center is going up on Westport Road. It is said 800 people will work in it. They aren't going to get there by streetcar. 

Last week I saw a "For Sale" ad for 30 acres on Route 7 that is zoned for offices. How long do you think that particular parcel will remain vacant? A year? Maybe two?

And Wilton isn't the only town that has changed. In Norwalk, to which we are connected by Route 7, mega-office complexes have gone up, and yet another new high-rise building is under construction at Merritt 7.  Last Saturday, cars were lined up on Route 7 in both directions to turn into the parking lot of the new Wal-mart on the Wilton border. Just south of that, a new Hilton Hotel is about to open at perhaps the busiest, most stupidly designed intersection in Fairfield County. 

The granddaddy of all Fairfield County office complexes has been proposed for the Connecticut Limousine site in South Norwalk. If that goes through -- and it will, because the town fathers of Norwalk never say "no" to developers -- rush hour traffic on the current 7 extender is likely to clog as badly as traffic on I-95 between Bridgeport and Stamford. 

Thousands of northern Fairfield Countians, unable to afford housing in an area where  new condos are selling briskly despite price tags of more than $500,000, drive down Route 7 every day en route to jobs in Wilton, Westport, Norwalk and Stamford.

We Wiltonites can carry on all we want about our bucolic village and how we need to keep it pristine, as quaint as Vermont. But we might as well pull our heads out of the sand, take a look around, and admit the truth. This ain't rural New England. As beautiful as our town is, much of it along Route 7 looks like a suburb of Dallas with stone fences.

Yes, we still have our wonderful school system. Yes, the town choir still sings at the creche on Christmas Eve. And yes, Wilton Center is still charming if you don't look south of the library to the strip malls. One went up 10 years ago, a second is set to open any day, complete with a Starbucks and a Gap. How many hundreds of out-of-towners do those attract each day?

Our roads, unfortunately, haven't changed. They are inadequate, none more than the current Route 7, which, for a six-mile stretch from Georgetown to Grumman Hill Road in extreme South Wilton, has not one stoplight for traffic entering from the east. Those of us who live on the east side of town who need to turn left onto 7 from streets like Pimepwaug, Powder Horn Hill, Old Highway or Sharp Hill have to wait for, at times, 10 to 15 minutes then make across-the-lane dashes in front of semis and dump trucks. Worse yet, so do our school buses.

The current 7 is going to be widened, stoplights will be added, and some claim our traffic woes will largely disappear. I doubt it. Look at Westport's four-lane Post Road, lined by offices and retail buildings. Despite a six-lane highway running parallel to it, it's as dangerous as our current Route 7. There's simply too much traffic.

"Wait," you protest. "More trains are the answer." That response, if you ask me, is particularly daft. My office in Norwalk faces the trestle over which trains to and from Danbury pass. All are virtually empty except for those few packed with New York commuters that run during rush hours. 

We were wrong to say no to Super 7 for so long. Our motives were noble -- we thought we could stop progress -- but we couldn't.  If we really want the Wilton that was, perhaps we shouldn't be spending tax dollars to buy open spaces like Ambler Farm. We should be buying up the office buildings and strip malls and demolishing them to rid ourselves of the traffic they're attracting.

We've let the developers build their houses, offices and malls. Like it or not, people have come to live, work and shop in them, and they all drive.  I see no alternative but to build the damned road and be done with it.

Published 11/27/00 in Wilton Villager 
Reprinted with permission of Tom Dryden (author)

 

December 2000
I WISH SUPER 7 WOULD GO THROUGH

‘Twas commuting time in the Connecticut State,
Hardly a car was a traveling, perhaps it was fate.

But, Lo on Route 7, it was quite a different story.
With cars all jammed up and tempers a’soaring.

The four lanes of traffic were being reduced down to two,
And the drivers were saying, "I wish Super 7 would go through!

And out on Route 7 there rose such a clatter,
More sirens, more cars, "Oh, what’s the matter?"

Just traffic the officer said with a smile.
"Just Route 7 traffic is causing the snarl."

However, Going home from their jobs after a long, hard day.
The Northbound commuters could be heard to say,
"I wish Super 7 would go through.
Super 7 is needed and long overdue."
We need Super 7. It’s long overdue.
The traffic is nightmarish and the stop & go too.

But, Super 7 is dead, so our Governor says.
He just hadn’t bothered to listen to what all the people had said.

The Wilton officials just don’t want to hear,
All the locals complaining of the traffic so near.

The police officers help whenever they can,
But the traffic’s too much for our local clan.

The Expressway’s the best way, the only way to go
It will lower the back road traffic, where the locals now say "NO!"

The back roads are jammed with speeding cars galore.
Putting local safety at risk and then there’s lots more.

The commuters keep saying as they drive down the road,
"Super 7 is needed cause of traffic overload."

Super 7’s not dead; it’s only delayed.
With the present solution of widening, just a Band-Aid.

CER7’s still wants to promote the truth
And make the widening all but moot.

By B. Morgan
Wilton resident

9/11/00
There was an article in the 9/26/00 Norwalk Hour on the front page detailing what is happening.  In Ridgefield, we are getting support from not only many citizens, but from a majority of the Board of Selectmen, and their Chamber of Commerce.  

We were at the Oyster Festival on September 8-10, 2000 at Veterans Park in Norwalk - we wish to say thanks for all your support!  Over 1,300 signatures were collected on our petition.  Some of the signatures included Congressman Chris Shays and State Representative Alex Knopp.  

Also, thanks to those of you to volunteered and filled out the questionnaires, we are going to be tabulating results off the website and the forms filled out by the end of October so please come back to see what information we have gathered.