2005 NEWS - EITHER SCROLL DOWN OR CLICK ON THE SPECIFIC HEADINGS
Articles (including letters to editor) - pro and con are listed below. 
 
Wilton official upset by Super 7 endorsement 12/4/5
SWRPA urged to keep up Super 7 Pressure 11/3/5
Route 7 set to reopen this morning 7/15/5
Fatal Crash Closes Route 7 7/13/5
Tragedy refreshes 'Super 7' thoughts 7/13/5
DOT plans to demolish Route 7 wall: State cites safety concern as work begins on new design 7/11/5
Some believe Super 7 may be just down the road 4/25/5
Public gets chance to tell DOT how it feels about Route 7 interchange 4/5/5
Opponents, legislators had requested hearing 3/16/5
Editorial, Advocate: Preserve Options for Route 7 Highway 1/25/5
Lawmaker has wrong position on new highway 1/20/5
Selling off land for new Route 7 makes no sense 1/20/5
Proposal would abandon plans for 'Super 7'  1/16/5

2007 news       2006 news         2005 news         before 2005

Wilton official upset by Super 7 endorsement   
(Norwalk Advocate)    
             top of page 
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published December 4 2005
Wilton town officials are concerned about a proposed regional transportation and land-use development plan that states a need for the controversial Super 7 expressway from Norwalk to Danbury.

Lower Fairfield County leaders are expected to vote tomorrow night to approve the South Western Regional Planning Agency's "Fourth Plan of Conservation and Development 2005-2015," but newly elected Wilton First Selectman William Brennan said the town is against the plan's endorsement of Super 7.

"We heard there was some language stuck in to support Super 7, and we're very much against that," Brennan said. "It's inappropriate. Basically, (the state Department of Transportation's) plan for Super 7 is dead. (Gov. M. Jodi Rell) said it's dead."

Super 7, a highway that would run from Norwalk to Danbury and link Interstate 95 to Interstate 84, has been on the table for nearly 50 years, but Wilton officials and environmental groups oppose the plan, keeping it in limbo.

Because the plan has been in development for months, and Brennan took office last week, he has asked SWRPA for more review time.

An extension also would be fair to the newly elected leaders in Norwalk and Westport, he said.

Endorsing Super 7 came at the request of Norwalk officials. In the Norwalk Planning Commission's letter to SWRPA, they ask for the draft plan to be revised to address the need for a Route 7 expressway. In the draft land-use policy map, the commission asked to add the proposed extension of the Route 7 expressway to Route 33 in Wilton and to Danbury as depicted on a 1995 plan map.

"This plan is very consistent with what we have asked for in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and now," said Michael Green, Norwalk Planning and Zoning director.

Super 7 would help address traffic in a booming economic area and would benefit the region, Green added.

Robert Wilson, executive director of SWRPA, said the agency board will consider Brennan's request at tomorrow's meeting.

The final draft may reflect the language in the Southwest Region Metropolitan Planning Organization's long-range transportation plan, which claims Super 7 is an "unfunded need," Wilson said.

The DOT is widening sections of Route 7 to alleviate traffic. They also have conducted a study to help find ways to improve train service on Metro-North Railroad's Danbury branch, which runs in the Route 7 corridor between South Norwalk and Danbury

SWRPA URGED TO KEEP UP SUPER 7 PRESSURE                    top of page   
By ROBERT KOCH Hour Staff Writer     (Norwalk Hour, 11/3/5)
NORWALK -The Planning Commission urged the South Western Regional Planning Agency Wednesday night not to give up on Super Route 7 expressway, nor focus affordable-housing construction exclusively in urban areas. The regional planning agency is roughly a month away from adopting its Fourth Plan of Conservation & Development 2005-2015.

The document will replace a 1995 plan and offer recommendations on land use, transportation, housing, recreation, emergency planning and other issues faced by the eight lower Fairfield County municipalities represented by SWRPA.

On Wednesday night, Robert H. Wilson, SWRPA executive director, came to city Hall and asked planning commissioners to comment on the 44-page draft plan.  "One of the (our) staff comments in Norwalk is the need to address the need for the Route ' expressway... and we know Wilton doesn't want it," said Leigh Grant, planning commissioner and Norwalk representative to. SWRPA. Grant asked how the opposing interests will play out when SWRPA's board votes on the final plan.

SWRPA has been working on the 2005-15 plan for two years. The agency will receive public comment through Nov. 16. Wilson said SWRPA will incorporate those comments into the final plan, which is slated for adoption in early December.

The Route 7 expressway, also known as Super 7, was once envisioned as a four-lane superhighway that would connect Norwalk and Danbury. The state Department of Transportation purchased land to build the expressway, but the plan ground to a halt after opposition from communities in its path.

While the 1995 SWRPA plan backed the expressway as needed to "provide better highway access through the region to the Danbury area," the new draft plan does not. Wilson said the Congestion Mitigation Systems Plan, adopted in 2003, and the Regional Long-Range Transportation Plan, adopted this year, address transportation.

"We felt that any significant treatment of transportation in this plan would be redundant," Wilson said. "Whether or not a recommendation for the Super 7 expressway finds its way into this document, I don't know. Certainly; if it's sent to us for consideration, our committee will review that. Our long range transportation plan views (Super 7) as an unfunded need for the region; Wilton disagrees with that."  "Reality would probably dictate that (Super 7) is probably as dead as a door nail," Wilson added.

Planning commissioners took no chances. On a unanimous vote, they approved and forwarded to SWRPA three pages of recommendations asking the agency to, among other things, again endorse the Route 7 expressway; new train station construction along the Danbury line; and using excess state land to build affordable housing.

"It looks to me like you just sort of brushed over affordable housing. Kind of like, it's up to Norwalk and it's up to Stamford and nobody else. I get that feeling from your document," said Walter O. Briggs, commission chairman.

As with the 1995 plan, the new plan encourages development in town centers, where water, sewer and other infrastructure are in place, and discourages sprawl in green spaces. The draft plan calls for new housing, especially low- and moderate income housing, "along established transit corridors and in urban town centers.  On that topic, planning commissioners want the final plan to recommend that excess state and local land be used for affordable housing.

Michael B. Greene, the city's planning & zoning director noted that the 1995 plan recommended using such land for small developments.  "Route 7 right-of-way; for example, there are little pieces of land that could fit two or three units. Why not use that for affordable?" Greene said. "That's not in this plan. We don't know if it was an oversight, but it's not there." 

Greene urged SWRPA to hear Norwalk's concerns, incorporate them into the final plan, and produce a good plan rather than simply shoot for December completion.

Route 7 set to reopen this morning                     top of page   
By Tobin A. Coleman, Staff Writer July 15, 2005
Route 7 in Ridgefield was scheduled to reopen for this morning's rush hour after the fatal and fiery crash of a fuel tanker Tuesday that severely weakened a bridge over the Norwalk River and forced the road's closure.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced at about 5:30 p.m. yesterday that the span will be buttressed with temporary supports and, barring any unforeseen circumstances overnight, the road was scheduled to reopen today at 5 a.m.

"As a western Connecticut resident myself, I am well aware of the significance of getting Route 7 reopened in such a short period of time," Rell said in a statement. Rell lives in Brookfield.

"Forty-eight hours ago, this was a devastating scene that resulted in the closing of one of our busiest roadways," she said. "The fact that it will be ready to reopen so soon is a true testament to the commitment of the men and women who have been working around the clock in Ridgefield to get the job done."

Police reported that on Tuesday afternoon an unidentified white sport utility vehicle pulled out from a side road into the path of the truck, forcing the driver to slam on his brakes to avoid the vehicle.

The truck, loaded with 8,000 gallons of gasoline, jackknifed, flipped over and burst into flames.

The driver of the Island Transportation truck, Ricky Butler, 46, was killed. Police are looking for the driver of the SUV.

Route 7 is the main route between Danbury and Norwalk and averages about 30,000 vehicle trips per day, according to the state Department of Transportation.

U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Bridgeport, said he and other members of Connecticut's congressional delegation have asked for emergency relief funds from the federal Department of Transportation to cover repairs.

Shays is scheduled to visit the site this morning with Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi and Federal Highway Administration official Brad Keezer to assess the damage and discuss funding for repairs.

Free bus service has been added between Danbury and Norwalk and rail commuters on Metro-North Railroad's Danbury branch line have had their fares refunded.

Northbound traffic was being detoured onto Route 35 and southbound traffic onto Route 102.

State Sen. Robert Duff, D-Norwalk, yesterday urged the state to again consider building so-called "Super 7," a limited access highway that would run parallel to the existing road and ease traffic congestion along the route. The existing road runs through the business districts of several communities and in many spots is only two lanes wide. Rush-hour traffic often crawls along for miles.

The state bought land for Super 7 decades ago and the parcels remain unoccupied. Fierce opposition from residents along the route, who claim it will ruin the rural character of their communities, has kept the project from moving forward.

Duff said the tragedy should remind residents how fragile southwestern Connecticut's transportation infrastructure is and how badly the area needs Super 7.

"Unfortunately, tragedies like this point out the fact, even more so than the usual arguments, why we need to finish that expressway," he said.

Duff said the expanded bus service that commuters have relied on since Tuesday was nearly gutted in the state budget that the Legislature passed last month.

Duff said his work, as well as that of other legislators and state budget director Robert Genuario of Norwalk was instrumental in getting the $4.5 million operating funds for the Route 7 bus link and some other mass transit services restored.

"These services are extremely important and we must always continue to put funding in this part of mass transit," Duff said. 

Fatal crash closes Route 7
By James Lomuscio, Special Correspondent July 13, 2005                 
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RIDGEFIELD -- A tanker truck carrying 8,000 gallons of gasoline, jackknifed, flipped and exploded on a Route 7 bridge in Ridgefield yesterday afternoon, killing the driver, melting pavement, scorching trees and shutting down rush hour traffic on the major roadway between Norwalk and Danbury.

Route 7 may be closed until Saturday between Route 102 in Branchville and Route 35 in Ridgefield, state Department of Transportation officials said.

The fire damaged a bridge over the Norwalk River on the major north-south highway in western Connecticut, and authorities said gasoline spilled into the river.

"It looks like a scene from Vietnam with a napalm attack," Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi over his cell phone from the scene yesterday afternoon where he said the charred remains of the truck were sitting on the bridge.

"The whole area is scorched," said Marconi. "It extends 75 yards over the railing down to the Norwalk River, and the leaves and bark are completely burned from the trees. It's an environmental nightmare."

Ridgefield Police Capt. Stephen Brown said the accident happened at about 3:25 p.m. when, according to an eyewitness, a white sport-utility vehicle pulled out of Simpaug Turnpike and cut in front of the northbound gasoline truck in order to head south on Route 7. The tanker driver swerved, and his truck jackknifed, fell on its side and exploded, killing the driver.

All that remained of the truck last night were its rails and engine block. The tank and cab were incinerated.

Brown did not release the truck driver's identity, but said the man was from Connecticut and that his family had been notified. Brown said the accident remains under investigation. The driver of the sport utility vehicle has yet to be found.

Firefighters from Ridgefield, Redding, West Redding, Danbury and Wilton responded to the accident scene. No businesses or residences were damaged from the explosion, Marconi said.

Rush hour traffic in Georgetown came to a halt as Redding and Ridgefield police put up stanchions blocking Route 7 northbound traffic, redirecting vehicles onto Route 107. Electronic display signs identified the road as closed and traffic cones marked the detour.

The state DOT is hoping to restore traffic on Route 7 by Saturday morning.

Until then, motorists will have to take detours around the bridge on Routes 35 and 102, said state DOT Spokesman Chris Cooper.

Cooper said bridge and engineering inspectors will survey the damage today. At the scene last night, DOT Chief Engineer Art Gruhne, said it would be two or three days before Route 7 would be reopened, and that detour routes on state roads would be announced soon.

Gruhne said the fire weakened the bridge.

"Because of the heat, the concrete has lost some of its strength," he said.

Gruhne said the DOT was waiting last night for the state Department of Environmental Protection to finish cleaning up the river and adjacent wetlands before installing temporary pilings to shore up the bridge.

The DOT is planning to install a temporary bridge similar to the one used after the Howard Avenue overpass on Interstate 95 in Bridgeport was destroyed by a oil tanker truck explosion in March 2004. That accident seriously damaged an overpass, leaving the highway shut down in both directions for several days and causing major traffic problems.

"We're hoping after a full evaluation to design a temporary support," Cooper said. 'We're looking to do either timber or steel beam supports to get it open to traffic hopefully by the weekend."

-- Assistant City Editor Jonathan Lucas and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Tragedy refreshes 'Super 7' thoughts
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer July 14, 2005                         
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The fiery fatal truck crash that has closed down Route 7 until at least tomorrow is another reminder that Fairfield County's transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of better north-south passageways, elected officials and transportation advocates said yesterday.

The state needs to improve Metro-North Railroad's little-used Danbury branch line and the time may be right to rekindle talks of the long-stalled, controversial "Super 7" highway between Norwalk and Danbury, some officials said.

"We really don't have a north-south thoroughfare until you get to Route 8," connecting Bridgeport to Waterbury, said Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell, chairwoman of the South Western Region's Metropolitan Planning Organization. "The disabling of Route 7 may be a wake-up call. I hope the state takes a closer look at ways to improve" the transportation infrastructure.

Route 7 was closed Tuesday between Route 102 in Branchville and Route 35 in Ridgefield after a tanker truck overturned and burst into flames, killing the driver and damaging a bridge overlooking the Norwalk River in Ridgefield.

State Department of Transportation officials said the bridge was weakened from the fire and a temporary structure will have to be built. Gov. M. Jodi Rell said yesterday she hopes the road could be reopened by tomorrow.

More than 30,000 people a day use Route 7 between Norwalk and Danbury, according to the DOT. The limited transportation alternatives in a region that is experiencing population growth in the north and business growth in the south could make Fairfield County a cul-de-sac, Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp said.

"We need to be cautious drawing lessons out of a tragic death on this highway, but there is an obvious inadequacy of north-south routes in our region," he said.

Growth means new jobs and new employees, he said. "That's why we've always been supportive of a Norwalk to Danbury 'Super 7' and the electrification of the Danbury branch line."

One of those options may not materialize. The "Super 7," a superhighway that would run from Norwalk to Danbury and link to Interstate 84, has been an idea on the table for nearly 50 years, but some municipalities and environmental groups oppose the plan, keeping it in limbo.

The highway would be between four and six lanes in different sections.

Despite the opposition, the South Western Regional Planning Agency has always proposed a better north-south road as part of its long-term plans, said executive director Robert Wilson.

Route 7 is "clearly inadequate for the volumes it carries," he said. "This is the risk you run when you maintain an inadequate facility."

State Rep. Antoinetta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, one of the "Super 7's" most vocal legislative opponents, who proposed a bill this year to sell the land and invest it in the Danbury branch line, said lamenting the superhighway is not the answer.

"I don't think it changes the issues because (an accident closing the highway) could have happened on a 'Super 7,'" Boucher said. "But it does draw attention to the Danbury branch line."

The single-track Danbury branch line carries about 200 passengers a day between Danbury and South Norwalk and is being reviewed by the DOT for possible improvements.

To encourage commuters to take mass transit during the road closure, Rell said rail commuters would have their fares refunded until the road reopens and bus fares will not be collected on Norwalk Transit's Route 7 link. Additional trains on the branch line also will be put into service.

More has to be done with the branch line in the long-term, Boucher said.

"The Danbury branch line is an underutilized resource and it needs to be upgraded," she said.

But some transportation advocates said rail line expansion can't come at the expense of the proposed highway.

"We've always supported the 'Super 7' and it's ridiculous that it hasn't been done over the years," said Michael Riley, president of the Connecticut Motor Transport Association. "Our highway network is critical. I don't care how many barges (the state) uses or if they use rail traffic. There's going to be more trucks" to contend with.

State Sen. Robert Duff, D-Norwalk, said the state is "past the time to have a debate on whether the Super 7 should be finished," but improving the transportation system should never be simplified as roads vs. rails.

"It should never be either/or because every part is integral to our system," Duff said. "We have to get more people moving north-south, that's why we should be spending more money on transportation in this state."


DOT plans to demolish Route 7 wall: State cites safety concern as work begins on new design
By Alison Damast and Matt Breslow Staff Writers     July 11, 2005        top of page
NORWALK -- The state Department of Transportation is preparing to tear down the wall of rock at the end of the Route 7 connector, where several people have died in accidents and suicides in recent years.

The rock will be replaced with a ramp-like slope landscaped with shrubbery.

DOT spokesman Kevin Nursic said a contractor will begin removing rock in two to three weeks.

To improve safety, the rock is being scaled back along the side of the road, Nursic said. A barrier may be placed there once the rock is removed.

Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling said it is a "seriously flawed intersection."

"If they can knock that wall out of there and put shrubbery, that will slow a vehicle down and be less likely to cause injury or death," Rilling said.

State DOT Officials two years ago installed sand barrels and reflective chevrons after a series of accidents, including two deaths in fall 2002.

Last week, DOT employees reviewed the site, moving earth around to determine how far back the rock extends and how much should be removed, Nursic said.

"Once they do that, they will let the contractor know," Nursic said.

Heavy earth-moving machinery was operating at the site last week. The contractor will remove the rock by drilling and blasting, DOT engineers said. It will be replaced by a 100-foot-wide slope stretching 40 to 50 feet back from the street.

The ramp will look like runaway truck ramps seen on some highways. Shrubbery will be planted to slow vehicles that drive off the road. The sand barrels will be removed, but the state will keep the reflective chevrons.

State Rep. Antonietta "Toni" Boucher, D-Wilton, said the illuminated signs have prevented accidents.

"I'm cautious and hoping that they will continue to illuminate it so people will understand that is not a cut-through road," said Boucher, who represents part of Norwalk..

Mayor Alex Knopp said he was relieved that the DOT is moving forward with plans to replace the rock wall. The end of the Route 7 connector is poorly designed because the highway was never intended to end at Grist Mill Road, Knopp said.

"It is long overdue because right now it is a very hazardous situation where a limited-access, high-speed highway terminates on a rock wall that was never intended to be permanent," Knopp said. "We think that this reduction in the rock cliff will be a great help in improving safety."

Some believe Super 7 may be just down the road
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer  April 25, 2005             
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As the state Department of Transportation announced last week that it will build the Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange in Norwalk, some lawmakers and transportation advocates wondered whether it's an indication that the controversial Super 7 highway will happen, too.

One part of the DOT's design for the interchange project was especially scrutinized: the parkway ramp that connects with Route 7 north. Critics say the ramp is a mile-long "road to nowhere" because of opposition to construction of a Super 7 highway to Danbury.

Most agree Super 7 will not be built in their lifetimes but want to know whether the DOT is keeping its options open.

"My sense has been (the DOT) kept this design just in case in the future the debate for a Super 7 starts all over again," said Laurie Heiss, executive director of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, a nonprofit preservation group that opposed the interchange project. "Just because that project is off the books now doesn't mean it can't come back in 10 years."

DOT officials have said the interchange connection to Route 7 north has nothing to do with the Super 7. Its purpose is to link the parkway to Route 7 in all directions. Super 7, which would run a highway from Norwalk to Danbury and connect with Interstate 84, is not in the state's plans, they have said.

At a recent public meeting, critics of the interchange project reminded the DOT that, when it designed the connectors 10 years ago, Super 7 was in its plans. If that is no longer true, Phase 2 of the $98 million interchange project -- which includes the Route 7 north connection -- should be redesigned, said state Rep. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton.

"I think in some people's heart of hearts, they're hoping for" Super 7, said Boucher, who in February proposed a bill that would sell the highway right of way and use the money for Metro-North Railroad's Danbury line. "But it's not going to happen. There is an overwhelming opposition to it and it's a death knell for any politician who supports it in that corridor."

Others said it's misleading to compare today's interchange project with the Super 7 plans from 10 years ago.

"I think people were just using the Super 7 argument as part of their arsenal against the interchange itself," said Robert Wilson, executive direction of the South Western Regional Planning Association. "It stirs up concerns that this may be a precursor to Super 7 and it throws other people into the mix."

Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell said the interchange and Super 7 are "two separate issues."

Although the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Business Council of Fairfield County endorse a north-south highway connection between Norwalk and Danbury, Farrell said she doubts the Super 7 debate will be revitalized.

"I don't think the political will ever will be there," Farrell said. "It's an unpopular issue. The idea that (DOT) will breach its agreement is the stuff of urban legend."

Even those who oppose the interchange connection to Route 7 north believe the Super 7 has no future.

The DOT "had the authority and the money to do the project they had designed," said state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich. "The permits were in place and the money was there, so (DOT) was ready to push the button. But the Super 7 is not going to be built because of the number of legal and financial obstacles. I'm not basing this on speculation, I'm basing it on fact."

One Super 7 advocacy group, however, sees hope.

"It keeps the avenue open," said Barbara Quincy, a Wilton resident and member of the nonprofit Committee for the Extension of Route 7. "I don't anticipate they're going to build the Super 7 any time soon . . . but DOT is not going to let that land go."

The DOT made a telling announcement last week, Quincy said.

"This decision was critical," she said.

One of the biggest proponents of the interchange, Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp, did not return calls last week.

Public gets chance to tell DOT how it feels about Route 7 interchange
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer  April 6, 2005         
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NORWALK -- The public got its chance to question the Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange last night, and most said they want the state Department of Transportation to rethink its construction plans.

Concerns about the project's size, cost and effects on traffic were repeated for more than four hours by a majority of the 75 people who signed up to speak at a spirited public information meeting last night at Norwalk City Hall.

Though almost all speakers said the interchange, which would connect Route 7 and the Merritt to and from the east, is conceptually a good thing, only about a dozen elected officials and business leaders from Norwalk said the DOT's current plans would benefit the region.

"I know it is possible to revise things that don't make sense," said Peter Malkin, co-chairman of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, a nonprofit group that wants to preserve the road's historic character. "And there will be no penalty to the city of Norwalk if this plan is revised."

Phase one of DOT's two-stage $98 million project would reconstruct and widen the parkway interchange at Main Avenue and the Glover Avenue Bridge, starting this spring and lasting until 2007. Phase two would begin shortly afterward and connect Route 7 to the parkway and take an additional four years.

During construction, one Merritt lane would be shut down around peak hours in the morning and evening.

The project has been in design for more than 10 years.

The DOT was ready to award the contract last month, until heavy opposition from the conservancy and legislators persuaded Gov. M. Jodi Rell to call for last night's meeting.

It was the first public meeting since a hearing in 1998.

Some speakers said a lot has changed since 1998, most notably, the DOT's plans to extend the Super 7 highway to Danbury. Some said that change makes the proposed westbound Merritt to Route 7 north connection inexplicable, because the highway would continue for only another half-mile before it stops.

"The world has changed significantly in seven years," said state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich. "This interchange was originally being built with the Super 7 in mind. While I favor the rebuilding of this interchange . . . there would be a northbound ramp that goes, not quite to a road to nowhere, but close to it."

In their opening remarks, DOT officials said despite the interchange proposal, Super 7 is still not in the state's long-term plans.

Speakers who asked the DOT to consider an alternative design plan or traffic control strategy were constantly interrupted by cheers and applause from conservancy members and supporters who wore "Change the Interchange" buttons on their lapels.

Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp, a strong supporter of the project, got his own round of applause after saying opponents were about 10 years too late.

"This is like a rocket mission that has been planned for 10 years and some people come in during countdown and say we should redesign the rocket," Knopp said. "The options to redesign do not exist. It would kill it."

State Rep. Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, called DOT's plans "well thought out. The time has come and it's time for lift off. Our roads are being affected and we need to proceed immediately."

The local roads near the interchange are hazardous for motorists and the project needs to proceed to improve that, Norwalk police Chief Harry Rilling said. Since Jan. 1, 2000, there have been 2,082 accidents near the interchange, he added.

Before the meeting, DOT officials said they would take all comments into consideration, but not all who spoke last night were so optimistic.

"I don't think anything said tonight is going to make a difference and a contract is going to be signed no matter what," said Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, who also called for an end of hostilities between opponents. "With that said, we all support some form of a connection but proper coordination must take place."

Opponents, legislators had requested hearing                  top of page
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer

March 16, 2005
After pressure from opponents and state legislators, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has told the state Department of Transportation not to award a contract for the Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange project until after a public meeting next month.

"I have asked the DOT to schedule this important meeting because this project will affect the lives of thousands of people," Rell said in a statement yesterday. The project has faced opposition from the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, which has said the project is too expensive, disruptive and may damage the parkway's historic character.

Conservancy members asked for a public hearing to be held before a contract was signed, but DOT officials said a meeting would further delay a process that has already lasted a decade.

Plans for the interchange were made 10 years ago and public hearings were held in 1998 and 1999, but construction stalled because of funding problems, DOT officials have said.

Rell's request should only slightly alter DOT's current plans because the meeting will be held about a week after DOT was expected to sign the contract, DOT spokesman Christopher Cooper said.

"We'll just have to adjust our timing by about a week," he said.

DOT officials have said they plan to award the contract to O&G Industries of Torrington.

Unlike a public hearing, where the DOT has to review public testimony before making a policy decision, a public information meeting, like the one Rell requested, is for educating attendees about upcoming construction and lane closures, Cooper said.

The meeting will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 5, at Norwalk City Hall. Representatives from the DOT and the project consulting firm will provide information and answer questions regarding the proposal that will fully connect Route 7 to the Merritt Parkway in Norwalk.

The current Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange provides connections between Route 7 and the Merritt to and from the west with no connections to and from the east.

Phase one of the $75 million two-phase project will reconstruct the parkway interchange at Main Avenue and Glover Avenue Bridge and would start in the spring and last until 2007. Phase two would start soon after and take another three to four years.

A lane on the Merritt would be blocked off for construction around peak travel hours, and the conservancy has said it would cause serious traffic congestion.

An assortment of state legislators and municipal leaders, including state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, and state Rep. James Shapiro, D-Stamford, also requested another public meeting.

At a meeting at the Capitol yesterday, conservancy members said they were concerned about the differences between a hearing and a information meeting, but were assured by members of Rell's staff and state legislators that the April 5 meeting will be an appropriate setting for public input.

"We want to thank the governor for this upcoming opportunity where people can voice their concerns," said Dee Winokur, conservancy co-chairwoman. "We encourage all people who value the Merritt Parkway to attend."

Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp, who organized a news conference last week with regional legislators and business leaders to voice their support for the interchange project, said the meeting should clear up any confusion regarding construction.

"I'm glad we'll have this opportunity to describe the long history of this project," he said. "There has been a misrepresentation of facts by some opponents of the project's impact."

At recent meetings of the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Merritt Parkway Advisory Committee, conservancy members gave a "one-sided" account of construction problems, and the public meeting should give both sides of the issue an equitable voice, Knopp said.

Legislators who agreed that a meeting should be held before any contract was signed also applauded Rell's announcement.

"This is a monumental project worthy of the fullest disclosure," McDonald said. "I'm grateful the governor overruled the DOT. She rightfully recognized what they wanted to do would be an ill-conceived tact."

Not having a public hearing since 1999 wouldn't have been appropriate, Nickerson said.

"In the six years that has elapsed, there has been a changeover of public officials and the thing has gone stale in the public's mind," he said.
-- Staff Writer Tobin A. Coleman contributed to this story.

Editorial, Advocate:  Preserve Options for Route 7 Highway            top of page
1/25/5
The Issue:  It would be a mistake for the state to sell property that could allow a long-sought project. 
A fast, limited-access highway link from Norwalk to Danbury - a better Route 7 - is an idea that's been kicked around for so long it's been left for dead. Now a Wilton state representative wants to put a stake through its heart. This is not a wise impulse.

State Rep. Antoinetta Boucher serves House District 143, which covers mainly Wilton but also a portion of Norwalk, two communities directly affected by Route 7. In visionary plans put together some 40 years ago, the old state road was to be converted to a "super" highway that would run north from Interstate 95 to Danbury and link with Interstate 84.

It was a logical plan that promised, to improve regional transportation, serve employees and businesses along the route and end reliance on the existing Route 7, which is more or less a country road. The project stalled in the face of opposition in affected towns.

"Super 7" never got beyond Grist Mill Road in Norwalk. However, the state Department of Transportation long ago acquired additional land for the project. Now, Rep. Boucher is touting a bill to sell that land and use the money to improve the Norwalk to-Danbury Metro-North rail spur as well as the old Route 7.

We're not willing to dismiss Rep. Boucher's plan as mere politics - even though it appears clearly designed to suit the Wilton portion of her district. Many town residents -though by no means all - have historically opposed a "Super 7." Rep. Boucher is correct in asserting that "to think more outside the box" is valuable in meeting our serious transportation problems. It's just that radical thinking isn't superior simply because it's radical.

The deep flaw in this plan, we believe, is that it forever shuts down, even the possibility of improving a potentially important piece of the solution in the Route 7 corridor. Meeting long-term transportation needs is about both roads and rails. While the branch rail line should be improved, there is no firm guarantee that sacrificing Super 7 would accomplish that. And the rail line won't carry freight in any case; trucks still must do that.

There is a separate but equally important problem with the Boucher proposal.  Time has proved that it's virtually never a good idea for the state to sell land or rights of way. Once bought, the land always has the potential for good public use. Once sold, it will never be reacquired, except at a greatly inflated price. When the state built the Merritt Parkway 70 years ago, more land than needed was acquired. It may yet come in handy; in the meantime it's a green buffer. No one is proposing to sell it.

Even strong and consistent advocates of a better Route 7 have resigned themselves to the fact that a major project is not going to happen soon. But good ideas have a way of finding their moment eventually.  Interestingly, in all the time it has languished, the vision of a better Rout 7 has never become a bad idea.  It still has promise, and should not be summarily taken off the table.  

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Norwalk Advocate, Letters to the Editor, 1/20/05
Lawmaker has wrong position on new highway
To the editor:

Concerning the proposal of state Rep. Boucher on "Super 7" (Advocate news story, Jan. 16), this is another unfortunate example of a very misguided state elected official..

Since Ms. Boucher's time in office, she has had no sensitivity to the real needs of the community. I remember when we citizens of Wilton living in the Belden Hill~Seir Hill area met with her to get the town to help with bringing potable city water to our homes. She was completely negative until we put many hours and years into getting town approval- finally. What a difference in the quality of life of our area!

We also had a very active group in Wilton, meeting quite often, to see that "Super 7" goes through. Again she used her negative tactics to deny the completion of this road from Norwalk to Danbury.

Because of party loyalty and the fact that there are more registered Republican voters in Wilton than Democrats (although this "Super 7" ~issue is bipartisan) Ms. Boucher keeps getting re-elected.

Perhaps finally more sensitive voices will be heard and get elected, and get "Super 7" completed. Going from Norwalk to Danbury on single lane roads as now is a nightmare, and widening would be even more so.
Roma Y. Stibravy, Norwalk, via e-mail

Editorial, Norwalk Hour, 1/20/5
Selling off land for new Route 7 makes no sense
A proposal by state Rep. Toni Boucher, R-143, that would allow the state Department of Transportation to sell off land that was to be the path of a new Route 7 is at best naive and at worst disingenuous.

Her solution, in addition to selling off the right-of-way, is to expand the existing Route 7 and to improve service on Metro-North's Danbury branch rail line.

We heartily endorse the proposal to improve the rail line; we have advocated that on any number of occasions. Added trains, better stations and the creation of a stop in the Wall Street area have been some of our ideas. .

Re-electrification of the line would be one way to improve service. We never could fathom why the railroad took down the wires that .once provided power to the trains. For years the poles have remained as mute testimony to a misguided idea.

As for expanding the old Route 7, we have seen some of that taking place with marginal success. It does little good to suddenly expand the number of lanes and just as suddenly switch back to two lanes.

If indeed the old highway is expanded further, it won't do much to improve traffic flow; in fact, it might generate more. Add to that, selling off the right-of-way will only encourage more development and you guessed it more traffic.

We think it is disingenuous of Rep. Boucher to claim that at a later date, if DOT policy changed, the right-of-way land that has been sold off could be repurchased. Obviously buyers of the land wouldn't intend to leave it fallow; it will be developed and, of course, it will be more difficult and costly to buy it back.

She paints a grim picture of some elevated superhighway knifing through the town. We recall, however, that when the project was still under discussion, there was movement to keep it to allow profile, looking not unlike the Merritt ~ Parkway. 

Expanding the existing Route 7 will no doubt require the taking of some property by eminent domain, a procedure that would be lengthy and expensive. . .

The rationale for extending the new highway beyond its Grist Mill terminus is tied to the economics of the area. It is no secret that housing costs in the Danbury area are lower than the Norwalk-Stamford area, where the higher paying jobs are located.

The legislator complains that we can't wait 20 years for construction of the new highway, and we'd agree with that. We have already waited nearly four decades for the highway, once praised by the communities along its path. It was parochial opposition of some residents - and lawmakers like Rep. Boucher - that stalled this project.

We don't expect immediate resumption of construction of the new highway, but we see no logical reason for selling off the right-of way while we wait in hopes that it will some day be resumed.                                                         top of page

Proposal would abandon plans for 'Super 7'
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer        January 16, 2005

http://www.norwalkadvocate.com/news/local/scn-sa-nor.route72jan16,0,1816764.story

State Rep. Antoinetta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, has introduced legislation to abandon long-stalled plans for a "super" Route 7 and use the sale of the proposed highway land to improve Metro-North's Danbury branch and widen the existing road.

If the bill is successful, it would prove there are ways to fund the state's transportation needs without affecting the taxpayer, she said. It would also finally put to rest a highway plan that has been on the table since the 1950s.

"It's no longer part of the state's short-term or long-term plans," Boucher said of the "Super 7" proposal. "Meanwhile, the Danbury train line has not been properly utilized . . . We want to take that land back, that's not being used for anything."

The state began purchasing about $33 million worth of land in 1961 for a superhighway that would stretch from Norwalk to Danbury and connect with Interstate 84. The new road would replace the current Route 7.

But state officials instantly met resistance from municipalities and environmental groups and the process has been stuck in limbo since then.

Boucher said the numerous environmental studies confirmed construction of "Super 7" would harm the region's open space.

Her proposal would preserve some open space, but would also present a new way to fund transportation needs rather than resort to higher gas taxes or highway tolls as some advocates have suggested.

"There needs to be more plans like this," she said. "It's a creative way to improve what we need. We need to think more outside the box."

While Boucher said she expects very little opposition from the surrounding municipalities, there are still some people who believe there is a future for "Super 7."

"The city of Norwalk strongly opposes this unwise legislation," said Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp. "She is only using politics to foreclose the future possibility of a new Route 7. If that land was sold, it would make it impossible to get the necessary north-south improvements."

Barbara Quincy, a Wilton resident and a member of the nonprofit Committee for the Extension of Route 7, said "I'm not against trains, but we need to continue to fund our roads . . . the state has held on to the property so they could someday build that road."

State Department of Transportation officials said the land in question is still designated to be part of the proposed highway.

"We will be reviewing the bill," said DOT spokesman Chris Cooper. "But that's really all we can comment on right now."

There also is strong support for Boucher's proposal from the surrounding municipalities.

"We obviously need to address the transportation problems," said Rudy Marconi, first selectman in Ridgefield. The bill, "warrants consideration."

Stephanie Barksdale, executive director of the Wilton Chamber of Commerce, said the "Super 7" "issue certainly seems to be dead. From a business perspective . . . we need to get people to their jobs quicker. The 'Super 7' had its issues."

The only other concern with Boucher's bill would be how it would impact open space. While she emphasized preserving some of it, environmental groups said they hope selling the land won't affect their future plans for the property.

"I don't know of anyone who would just want to see it all get sold away," said Lillian Willis, vice president of the Norwalk River Watershed Association.

Willis has worked with Boucher before and remains optimistic the bill would strike a balance between open space and commercial real estate.

Transportation advocates voiced similar concerns, but said they applaud Boucher's attempt to think creatively about funding.

"It's worthy of serious consideration," said Robert Wilson, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Association. "Any serious consideration of the future of the 'Super 7' has been nil. We're hopeful we can address this issue when we meet with our elected officials."

Copyright 2005, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.          top of page


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