Residents balk at roundabout idea

Fifty people packed a state Department of Transportation (DOT) public hearing June 5 on the proposed modern roundabout for the intersection of Belden Hill Road and Wolfpit Road and gave a solid no thank you.

One of the outspoken neighborhood residents was David Cristini, who has formed a closed group on Facebook to share information about the proposed $2.6-million safety improvement project.

His fear, and that of many others gathered at the Trackside Teen Center for the pre-project public information session, was that a modern roundabout would improve traffic flow and invite more congestion to the residential road.

“I’ve lived here 14 years, and I can see the congestion from my dining room. I don’t want any more traffic volume. I’m concerned about the quality of life for my family,” Cristini told the DOT engineers who conducted the session, as well as the audience, who applauded him.

The state identified this area for a modern roundabout  because of high crash frequency over the last three years, with 19 accidents, three of which resulted in injuries.

This is not the first time the DOT has focused on the intersection. In 1996, the DOT identified it as a candidate for signalization, but Wilton Police Capt. Robert Cipolla said then First Selectman Bob Russell wanted a focus instead on widening Route 7. Congestion and traffic volume were the issues at the time, Cipolla said.

The DOT analyzed the intersection from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and found that a total of 7,043 cars pass through. The morning peak is from 8 to 9, with 1,480 cars, and the afternoon peak is 5 to 6, with just under 1,400 passing through.

The residents made it clear they do not want the modern roundabout though. First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice initiated a show-of-hands poll of the audience and found that most of the residents want the state to look for a way to get traffic volume off Belden Hill Road. For example, by streamlining traffic flow on Route 7.

That would be key because Belden Hill Road is used as an alternative to Route 7, to get from Wilton Center to the Route 7 connector in Norwalk.

“There’s more traffic than a local residential road should have,” said one resident whose spoken name was not audible.

“If you will speed the traffic flow on Route 7 and decrease traffic on Belden Hill it would make Wilton a better place to live,” said one man in the audience, who did not state his name.

The engineer who is project manager, Marissa Washburn, assured the public the state is listening to their concerns.

“This isn’t going to work if it’s not right for you,” Washburn said. “I don’t know where this is going.”

Further, “it hasn’t been funded yet,” said Vanderslice, who attended the meeting alongside other local politicos including state Sen. Toni Boucher and Ross Tartell, a Democrat candidate challenging state Rep. Tom O’Dea in the 125th district.

The crowd listened to a slide presentation about modern roundabouts in which Washburn explained there is a difference between a modern roundabout and a traditional traffic rotary. One difference is more design, like raised islands that force vehicles to bear to the right to enter.

No more than three cars would be backed up at a time waiting to enter the roundabout, she said.

There would be far fewer crashes, and of lesser severity, because of the safety design.

Residents said the traffic is only a problem during the morning and afternoon peak hours, though. They could not justify spending $2.6 million to fix a problem that only occurs two hours a day.

“It’s not a 24-hour problem, so I can’t see why we need a 24-hour solution,” said resident whose spoken name was not audible.

Some residents suggested that a traffic patrol officer would be the solution to the safety problem, but Vanderslice reminded the crowd that would cost local tax dollars to hire a part-time officer to cover the intersection. She opened the two-hour meeting by saying she frequently gets complaints from the public about this intersection.

DOT officials reminded residents no official project has been initiated, therefore there is no funding source or schedule available. Given the existing fiscal environment, should the concept be well received and the DOT initiate a project, it will still need to be prioritized against all other active projects.

Regardless of that, the residents who turned out are dead set against it.

“I have my fears that I’ll never be able to get out of my driveway on Belden Hill Road,” one resident said.