This weekend: Route 7 traffic will be a challenge

Motorists who are among the 17,000 cars that travel along Route 7 in Branchville, just over the Wilton line, will be taking the scenic route this weekend — through the village of Ridgefield.

Yes, all the traffic on Route 7 — figured at about 17,000 vehicles a day on a Saturday and 13,000 on a Sunday, according to the state Department of Transportation — will need to travel along Ridgefield’s already congested Main Street. Those traveling north along Route 33 into that town will also likely be affected.

“Some people, when they look at me, wonder if I’ve lost my hair,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said when asked about the plan.

The closure of Route 7 will be a little north of its intersection with Route 102 in Branchville, and the detour will be via Routes 102 and Route 35. The highway closure and detour will last for 56 hours straight, starting Friday night at 8 p.m. and lasting until Monday morning, June 12, at 6 a.m.

With the weekend hours, the detour won’t take place when there’s work going on at the state’s bridge project on Route 35, by the Fox Hill condominiums — that’s a weekday job.

This weekend’s highway closure is part of a $3.5-million bridge replacement job that is expected to create four additional weekend-long highway closures, with detours through Ridgefield, between now and fall —  probably two weekends in July, one in August, another in September.

The job will replace an unobtrusive bridge where The Norwalk River crosses under Route 7, shortly north of the train station — just a stone’s throw from The Little Pub.

While Route 7 will actually be closed in Branchville at the southern end of the detour route where bridge work is being done, at the northern end of the detour — at the intersection of Route 7 and Route 35 — the situation will be managed by Ridgefield Police.

That will allow local traffic to reach destinations along the two miles of Route 7 between the Route 35 intersection and the Route 102 intersection in Branchville. But those two miles will be closed to through traffic.
Additional police
Capt. Jeff Kreitz of the Ridgefield Police said the department will have four additional officers on duty throughout the weekend — at the expense of the state and its contractor.

Police cars will set up at both ends of the detour — the intersection of Routes 7 and 102, and the intersection of Routes 7 and 35 — with another patrol car looking after things in the area in between. And the fourth officer and police car will be stationed right where the bridge work is going on, just north of Route 102 in Branchville.

“There’s going to be signage up, and the detour’s going to be set up. The electronic message boards are going to be set up, advising of the road work ahead, and the detour route,” Kreitz said.

“The state is setting that up.”

Although locals will doubtless have their short-cuts and long-cuts around what seems an inevitable traffic snarl, Kreitz said police will try to keep cars off of Ridgefield’s smaller local roads.

“Any of that through traffic, we do not want to inundate those roads at all,” he said.

“Is it going to be busier? Absolutely,” Kreitz said. “That’s just common sense.”

Fire Chief Jerry Myers said the firefighters who drive ambulances and fire trucks will be ready.

“Obviously, We’ll have a boatload of traffic running through town. But it’s Ridgefield, so we’re kind of used to a lot of traffic,” he said.
‘Functionally obsolete’
The bridge being replaced dates to 1928 according to John Dunham, district engineer for the state Department of Transportation. The decision to replace it was based on inspections which the state does every two years or so.

“The overall superstructure was rated as poor based upon field inspection,” Dunham said. “As a result of field inspection and engineering analysis the structure was determined to be functionally obsolete and hydraulically inadequate meaning it could not pass the 100-year flood  storm event.”

The state’s estimates of the amount of traffic that’ll be detoured through Ridgefield is based on traffic counts on Route 7 on a weekend in March 2014, which found 17,223 vehicles using the highway on Saturday, and 13,088 on Sunday.

At the time, the state also counted cars on Main Street, at the intersection of Routes 35/33 and 102, near Jesse Lee Church.

The totals were 12,432 on the Saturday, and 10,281 on Sunday.

Based on those numbers, the detour from Route 7 can be expected to more than double the usual Main Street traffic both Saturday and Sunday.
Double whammy
Marconi is frustrated that the town is caught between the traffic nightmares of the two state bridge projects and he envisions worrisome scenarios developing.

“A wide-load trailer coming down Route 7 is going to be detoured all the way up 102, take a right that’s almost impossible to take with a tractor trailer, onto Main Street, come down through Main Street and quite possibly not make it through the temporary bridge [on Route 35] for two reasons — either too wide, or too heavy,” he said.

The expectation is to re-route trucks through Redding.

Marconi is also concerned about the state of the detour signs, which were put up almost a year ago. The one near town hall has fallen over, with no one addressing it, “which means no one’s ridden the route and inspected all of the detour signs,” he said.