Guest Commentary: Route 7 series offered no solutions, but here's one: extend expressway
The recent series of articles in The Bulletin about Route 7 focus on the road’s past. The final installment fails to bring us up to date on the current situation and the results we all live with 50 years after the original plans. Instead it brings out a lot of biases, prognostications, hyperbole and theory by those people who are left in town to talk about it. And, as usual, no real solutions are offered.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) is responsible for overseeing the operation of all forms of transportation in our state, ferry boats to airports. ConnDOT conducts surveys of every state and interstate road in Connecticut on an ongoing basis. These surveys are known as Average Daily Traffic (ADT). Wilton has a number of state roads, 7, 33, 106 etc.
The Route 7 expressway terminates at Grist Mill Road in Norwalk, which affects Wilton. That terminus has an ADT of 40,100 vehicles per day! The terminus where old Route 7, Main Avenue and Grist Mill meet (at the MV Bureau) has an ADT of 28,200. The Wilton-Norwalk line has an ADT of 32,700 and the merger of routes 33 and 7 shows an ADT of 26,700. The confluence of routes 33, 106 (Wolfpit) and Sharp Hill is 28,800. Where Route 7 crosses the Wilton-Ridgefield town line, the ADT is 19,800.
Route 33, Ridgefield Road, has an ADT of 23,300 at the junction with Route 7. The ADT at Route 33 and Belden Hill Road is 9,900; the ADT at Drum Hill is 7,200. The ADT at Nod Hill is 11,900, and where Route 33 crosses the Ridgefield-Wilton town line the ADT is 5,200. These are all just some examples; there are many more you can see online.
Wilton offers a number of town roads to drivers seeking a way around Route 7, and from the numbers it appears they are using them. If you walk, run, bike, get your mail, or exit your driveway you probably know where those roads are. Those town roads were never designed to handle the overflow traffic volume that the ConnDOT surveys suggest. Safety is compromised as is air quality and noise. Increased traffic destroys the roads, sight lines are compromised, and we pay for maintenance with our public works budgets.
If you do use Route 7 you probably have come across the problem of trying to exit a parking lot, getting stuck behind a turning car, or just trying to cross the street. Route 7 also keeps changing from three lanes to two lanes to four lanes, and one lane heading south past Orem’s. It is over a quarter of a mile on Route 7 between traffic lights from School Road to the YMCA, and even more from Grumman to the 33/7 interchange near Orem’s.
Connecticut has no money to build a “Super 7” now. Recommendations have been made to improve the Danbury train line, and extend it to New Milford. It is a good idea, but why then is I-95 so crowded with a train line running parallel to it?
My mid-term solution is to extend the existing expressway from Grist Mill to the intersection of routes 7 and 33, without interchanges. The land is there to do that. This may entice some companies to expand along Route 7 sections in Wilton, which would help lower our tax burden. Our current zoning regulations can control how things are done so we do not end up with a Route 1 situation. For safety, install more traffic lights, but time them to allow for nonstop movement and more appeal to drivers seeking to pass through, and eventually four-lane the road up to Ridgefield.
Where Wilton is concerned, our town center continues to undergo improvements and serves as our small town focal point. As far as I know River, Horseshoe and Old Ridgefield roads are not used as bypasses, so I doubt our in-town traffic would change. The remaining Route 7 expressway land should not be sold. It should be open now for public use, and kept in place for future generations who may see a need for a “Super 7,” or a hybrid of it. Taxpayers paid for that land over 50 years ago expecting a road to be built. Residents sold their property for the same reasons. Highway engineering has changed a lot in the past 50 years and undoubtedly will improve in the future. Wilton is not an island, it is part of a region. When a river overflows its banks, it is best to try and channel it before it floods everything.
Mr. Johnstone lives on Tory Place.