Opinion: Postpone exits 16-17 project to protect Norwalk residents from pollution

Traffic builds on Interstate 95 looking north to exit 16 through Norwalk Conn. on Tuesday November 21, 2017 as the Thanksgiving holiday weekend approaches.

Traffic builds on Interstate 95 looking north to exit 16 through Norwalk Conn. on Tuesday November 21, 2017 as the Thanksgiving holiday weekend approaches.

Alex von Kleydorff / Hearst Connecticut Media

An open letter to state Sen. Bob Duff; state Representatives Chris Perone, Stephanie Thomas, Lucy Dathan, Travis Simms, and Terrie Wood; Mayor Harry Rilling and the Norwalk Common Council:

The growing population in Fairfield County has resulted in increased passenger and truck volume on Interstate 95. East and Eastern Norwalk stakeholders, particularly those who reside within a mile of the highway, have observed noise pollution rising sharply year over year. As you’re aware, the Greenwich-based organization Neighborhood Citizens Against I-95 Noise (stop95noise.org) recently brought additional attention to this quality-of-life issue of steadily rising highway noise pollution, measured as a 10- to 15-decibel increase over the last 20 years. The result was a postponement of a Connecticut Department of Transportation $205 million dollar highway improvement project (CT DOT 0056-0316) planned for Exits 2 through 6 which inadequately addressed noise remediation. Their grassroots effort was heard by Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo and Greenwich legislators, who in turn advocated on behalf of their constituents for a joint local and state funded plan inclusive of noise pollution remediation. Gov. Ned Lamont, a Greenwich resident who granted the request for the project be halted, was quoted as saying he will direct CT DOT to “revisit the project scope to provide a more comprehensive solution.”

East Norwalk residents were aware of a similar, looming reconstruction/resurfacing project (CT DOT 102-295) between Exits 16-17. That project did not start last fall, and residents expected it was also being delayed in consideration of the research provided by Neighborhood Citizens Against I-95 Noise, with whom the community nonprofit East Norwalk Neighborhood Association collaborated early on in the endeavor. Only recently did our residents learn that not only is the Norwalk project proceeding without any noise abatement components, but that construction is slated to start any day. This shows an extremely unfair preference to Greenwich residents’ quality of life over that of East Norwalk residents.

The same consideration “to provide a more comprehensive solution” granted to Greenwich is not being offered here in Norwalk, although our residents suffer the same physical, emotional and psychological impacts of chronic, excessive and anticipatory highway noise. The research is clear: some effects are short-term, but many are long-term, including those that impact restorative sleep over extended periods of time.

For more than a decade, East Norwalk stakeholders and East Norwalk Neighborhood Association wrote to and met with elected and appointed officials, spoke publicly at DOT project forums and have continuously asked for the DOT to request state funding for noise abatement (in the absence of meeting the federal reimbursement threshold) and for our Norwalk delegation to support and approve those funding requests. Many will recall residents’ offer to ultimately take “hand me down” barriers when the DOT completely upgraded those in Darien, where some areas even contain double rows of barriers.

While most residents here do welcome the planned infrastructure improvements (namely to relieve highway flooding and redesign Exit 16 north ramp for safety) that doesn’t mean residents of Norwalk should accept any less protection from noise, air and light pollution than our neighboring communities enjoy now or will in the future.

East and Eastern Norwalk stakeholders deserve and request your assistance in soliciting direct responses from Gov. Lamont and DOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti as to why they’ve acknowledged excess noise pollution in Greenwich, postponing that project, but not ours. We’d also like to understand why you, our state delegation, have not advocated alongside your Greenwich colleagues to provide quality-of- life relief to your constituents. Why does this inequity between two communities continue as if Norwalkers are second-rate citizens?

Interstate 95 noise pollution mitigation solutions should be planned holistically with the help of Western Council of Governments (WestCOG) and executed equitably in every Fairfield County community where residents live in close proximity to I-95 with its completely unacceptable decibel noise pollution. Adding new capacity to I-95 shouldn’t be the litmus test for funding, especially with the billions in federal funds recently approved for Connecticut.

Imposing decades-old technology with lack of improvements on one community and yet considering another for advanced technology is just unfair. We hope you agree it’s simply unacceptable to see concrete sound barriers in Darien, then absent in Norwalk, and start again after Norwalk. This disparity has been prominently and repeatedly brought to your attention throughout the years, yet no effort has been made to secure barrier or state-of-the-art road materials funding from any sources.

With this letter we ask our local and state elected officials to call for Gov. Lamont to hit pause on the work scheduled for Interstate 95 in Norwalk, so you may advocate for us as Greenwich elected officials did for their stakeholders.

We thank you in advance for your consideration, and look forward to the response from Gov. Lamont and Mr. Giuliette, along with yours, on postponing the looming exits 16-17 project and how our community can proactively collaborate on the abatement of I-95 noise and fine particulate pollutants to improve and protect our quality of life, health and property values.

Submitted by East Norwalk Resident Mimi Chang and the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association.