Route 7 project receives ‘overwhelming’ support
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT)’s Highway Design Unit held a public informational meeting Dec. 12 at Trackside Teen Center on Project No. 161-141 — a state project designed to improve the accident-prone Route 7 and Grumman Hill Road intersection.
At least 30 community members attended the meeting, and not one expressed opposition.
Project manager Scott Bushee commented on how “unusual” it is to have not a single person oppose a project at an informational meeting.
“It’s really positive to hear overwhelming support for what we’ve been working on,” he said.
One man in the audience said that’s because “all those people died or are in the hospital” because of how dangerous the Route 7 and Grumman Hill intersection is.
The average traffic flow in the area is 31,000 cars per day, and according to DOT Highway Design Unit principal engineer William Britnell, the intersection experiences an average of about 20 crashes per year.
This project will cover the Route 7 area between Route 15 and Route 33.
At the Grumman Hill intersection, Bushee said, Route 7 has “two lanes in the southbound direction and two lanes in the northbound direction, with driveways going to ASML and Grumman Hill Road.”
The project will widen the roadway on the west side of Danbury Road at the Grumman Hill Road intersection to accommodate northbound and southbound left-turn lanes and a minimum of four-foot shoulders. It will also include:
- Replacement of the traffic signals at the Grumman Hill Road and Wilton Corporate Park intersections to better accommodate the proposed left-turn lanes.
- Installation of short left-turn slots on Route 7, south of the Grumman Hill Road intersection, at Hollyhock Lane and the commercial driveway opposite Hollyhock.
- New sidewalks and crosswalks to better accommodate pedestrian traffic at the Grumman Hill Road and Wilton Corporate Park intersections.
In looking at pedestrian safety needs, Bushee said, the DOT also identified sight line improvements that could be made to help drivers “better see the upcoming intersection and crosswalks,” including clearing trees and relocating signs.
Concerns and improvements
“We are very grateful that this is going to be addressed,” said a woman who has lived in Wilton since 1991 and said the intersection has been a worsening problem.
Washington Post Road resident Ross Tartell said he drives and jogs through the intersection “all the time,” and it’s “one of the most incredibly dangerous places [he’s] ever seen.”
“People who want to cross the street are dodging cars … I’ve seen accidents. This is a really dangerous place, so if you’re looking for support, sign me up,” said Tartell.
One resident said she has her children take alternate routes to get home because of how dangerous the area is.
“What we found in reviewing safety at this location is that vehicles wanting to make a left turn stop in the inside through lane, and then you have vehicles stuck behind them,” said Bushee.
“People do things like wanting to change lanes, which sometimes create accidents or sideswipes. Same thing happens in the southbound direction.”
The intersection’s three-year crash history shows 16 rear-end crashes and four sideswipes in the northbound direction, said Bushee.
Some of the rear-end crashes, he said, were “certainly attributed to a vehicle stopped waiting to make a left turn with through traffic coming up behind,” while some of the sideswipes were “likely vehicles that wanted to change lanes because they were stuck behind someone that was trying to take a left.”
“In the southbound direction, it’s similar,” said Bushee. “We had nine crashes over a three-year period right in this area where people were likely making a left, and four sideswipes.”
Bushee said there were also some rear-end and turning crashes near the Hollyhock Lane and ASML driveways.
Providing left-turn lanes on Route 7 “should help” reduce rear-end collisions and sideswipes, said Bushee.
The project will require the purchasing of “narrow strips of land” in the area, said project engineer Byong Kim, to accommodate the widening of the road.
Dennis McDonald, representative from the DOT’s Rights of Way division, said his job is to “acquire property and property rights necessary for the project,” which will include “some partial acquisitions” and “maybe some easements and various other property rights.”
“Once property impacts are determined, each impacted property owner will receive a letter of intent to acquire. Along with the letter will be a property acquisition map, which will further define the property impacts and provide a more in-depth view of what to expect,” he said.
“Soon after that letter is received, an evaluation process will occur. If an appraisal is warranted, the impacted property owner will be contacted by a licensed real estate appraiser and afforded the opportunity to accompany him or her on the site inspection.”
A formal offer in the form of a letter will be made once the value is determined.
“Each property owner will be given time to consider the offer and negotiate,” said McDonald.
If an agreement is reached, a formal closing will take place approximately 90 days later, he said, but if an agreement cannot be reached, “the state will utilize its power of eminent domain.”
“I know that has a very negative connotation, but many times this is done simply to keep the project on schedule,” said McDonald.
Bushee said the purpose of the informational meeting was to present the project and “gather feedback” from community members.
“We’re very early in the design stage,” said Bushee.
After tonight, he said, the DOT will be “looking for comments over the next few weeks.
“We’ll then evaluate the comments and meet with the town to discuss moving ahead with the project,” said Bushee.
“Subsequent to that, we have a long road ahead of us with drainage improvements, coordinating utility relocations, final design work, and rights-of-way acquisition processes.”
Bushee said the project design will be complete in the fall of 2019 and construction is anticipated to begin in the spring of 2020.
During construction, one lane of traffic in each direction will be maintained, said Kim, and there will be no detours.
Britnell said it should take about seven months to complete the project.
The estimated construction cost of the project is approximately $2.7 million, with 80% in federal funding and 20% in state funding.
Britnell said the 20% in state funds is the DOT’s “biggest problem right now.”
“The DOT is talking to the legislature about getting additional bonding money,” he said, but “right now, there’s a push in the current budget to put a cap on the bonding, which is much lower than we would need to produce all of our projects.”
“Other possible alternatives” are being looked at to either increase revenue or cut costs, said Britnell — the latter of which “could mean eliminating certain projects, and this could potentially be one of those projects.”
Britnell said he will “deal with trying to get the funds for the project,” but first needs to know if it’s something the community wants.
“If it is,” he said, “then I will try to get the funding.”
One resident asked if there’s a chance there will be issues with getting the 80% in federal funding, to which Bushee replied that “in our recent fiscal climate, our problem has been with local funds — not federal funds.”
Federal funds are “usually something we can count on,” said Bushee. “It’s the state funds that are usually more questionable.”
Another resident asked if there’s anything other than funding that could delay the project.
“Occasionally, permitting becomes a problem, but we don't have anything too difficult in this project, so I feel comfortable with the schedule,” said Bushee. “As long as the funding comes along, I think we’re in good shape.”
The comments made Tuesday night, said Bushee, are “going to help a lot” and will be put in the DOT’s project file and used to “support the project and continue work with the town.”
Still, community members are encouraged to provide written comments about the project by Tuesday, Dec. 26, by emailing email@example.com with “Project No. 161-141” in the subject, or mailing a letter to:
Mr. William Britnell, P.E.
Connecticut Department of Transportation
P.O. Box 317546
Newington, CT 06131-7546
Questions about the project may be directed to Britnell at 860-594-3274 or firstname.lastname@example.org.