Monday, September 04, 2006

Wilton Obstructs: Fairfield County Suffers

Traffic, Taxes and Affordable Housing. These are the basic issues that rile residents of Connecticut most often. Taxes, by virtue of exponential increases in property values are taking a bigger bite out of income, people can't afford to move into cheaper housing elsewhere because traffic makes it onerous to get to where the jobs are. And the jobs, in Fairfield County are in the Greenwich to Norwalk, southwestern Connecticut coastal corridor. So individual towns grapple with the balance of housing versus infrastructure and commercial development versus residential all while the master plan for Super 7 remain unimplemented.

Super 7 is the 50 year old DOT plan to link the highway portion of route 7 that ends in Norwalk to the highway portion of route 7 that ends in Danbury. This plan has been dormant for decades because some, dare say, a minority of Wilton residents, don't want it. Their reason defy logic, since the big objection was that it would increase the amount of traffic in Wilton. Well, that is exactly what happened without Super 7, since today over 30,000 cars a day meander up route 7, a one lane road that has numerous construction projects already in progress. Things like underground powerlines being installed under the road as an example.

According to an article in Sunday's Norwalk Advocate, State Rep Toni Boucher-R Wilton, is overjoyed that the DOT will begin widening the one lane route 7 to accommodate the increased traffic.

The Super 7 highway, which would be a four- to six-lane road between Norwalk and Danbury, has been stalled for decades because of protests from Wilton residents and environmentalists.

Some transportation agencies say the highway is needed, but now the project lacks political traction and state funding.

State Rep. Antoinetta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, an opponent of the Super 7, said the DOT's widening plan is the best way to improve traffic flow.
. . .
"Once it gets done, motorists should feel some relief," Boucher said. "We've been pushing for this for quite some time."

The DOT worked with the town while designing the project, she said.

"It's been well-handled and we met on so many occasions," Boucher said. "They've kept the town in the loop."

Wilton officials were concerned about businesses, schools, police and fire department headquarters on Route 7, she said.

While the contractor is widening the road, a lane always will be open in either direction, Mercure said.

If necessary, traffic will be blocked off only late at night, he said.

Apparently Brian Mecure, Supervising Engineer for the DOT project has never experienced the traffic jams caused by the other DOT one lane open, only closed at night, "let's back up cars for miles while someone wants to make a left turn into a business" northern part of the route 7 widening project.

A trip to Danbury form Norwalk, depending on where you depart, is approximately 15 miles. It currently takes 45 minutes on average. Most days it exceeds an hour. A comparable trip from Norwalk to Bridgeport along I-95, also 15 miles takes about 15 minutes.

By building the Super 7 expressway, traffic congestion on I-95 and route 7 will lessen because of the the ability of people who work in the economic super corridor of southwester Connecticut to choose housing options north of Fairfield County. Anyone who commutes in from Milford, Stratford, Trumbull and Shelton would take a hard look at moving to a location that promises a-less-time-in-car commute.

Corporations would be more comfortable relocating to the corridor because there would be an increased pool of workforce that is a reasonable commuting distance. Office developments would diversify towns tax rolls, so that the pressure on increasing infrastructure is mitigated. A diversified tax base helps keep residential property taxes down.

It seems somewhat misguided to have our federal tax dollars used to construct bridges to nowhere in Alaska, and roads to be bombed in Iraq, while the DOT claims that they lack funds for the project. 80% of the construction costs for Super7 are federal dollars, the ones we keep sending to Washington DC but keep getting .69 cents back on. It's time we get our elected officials to start thinking about what's best for Fairfield County as a region.

Commitee to Extend Route 7.
Norwalk Advocate, Route 7 work to begin soon in Wilton, Mark Ginocchio, 9/04/06.


GMR said...

I am quite astonished that a small minority of Wilton residents can prevent this road from being built. First, the state already owns all of the property for Super 7. Second, Belden Hill Road, a residential road that runs roughly parallel to Route 7 is completely clogged with cars each morning. Super 7 would alleviate traffic not only on the existing Route 7 but also on these residential streets.

Super 7 is so necessary: housing prices on the coast are very high, yet commute times from north of the Merritt down to the coast can take a significant time because there is no suitable road.

Wilton: yes, the highway is necessary. You can't pretend you are a small isolated New England village forever: you are located in the middle of Fairfield County, and there's going to be a lot of cars trying to get trough your town.

Toni Boucher has been one of the biggest obstacles to Super 7. Last year, she tried to have the state sell off the land it owns for building Super 7, as that would permanently kill the project.

Oh, and I'm surprised that Toni doesn't see the problem. She works at Commonfund on Route 7, and was either involved in an accident while turning left into the building or got a traffic ticket for doing so (I can't remember which it was).

Anonymous said...

don't worry turff, thr DOT thinks it can find $2B to rebuild the Waterbury mixmaster, where I've never been stuck in traffic.

The Luddite attitude exemplified by Bluecoat causes the DOT to take its shovels where they are more welcome, if less necessary

Genghis Conn said...

Astonishing that this wasn't done years ago.

Then again, don't get me started on Route 6/1-84/I-384 or Route 11, both of which were supposed to be done years ago, as well. Bah!

Anonymous said...

turfgrrl - Why are we beating this dead horse?

If you want to debate the issue, however, would you please make sure that your facts are correct when making a post.

For example, you state: "80% of the construction costs for Super7 are federal dollars, the ones we keep sending to Washington DC but keep getting .69 cents back on."

The Transportation fund in CT and in DC are separate accounts from the general fund. So while it is true that we get roughly .69 cents on the dollar in general fund revenues, it is NOT true with respect to transportation dollars. In fact, we get more than $1 (I think it's about $1.50 in transportation dollars for every dollar we send to DC.

You also state: "It's time we get our elected officials to start thinking about what's best for Fairfield County as a region."

Have you been on vacation the last 2 years? Gov. Rell's transportation initiative called for $1.3 billion to be spent improving our transportation system, and a majority of that money will be spent in Fairfield County. The second phase of the transportation plan that Speaker Ammann and Gov. Rell agreed upon will spen an additional $2.3 billion, also with money coming to Fairfield County.

Our federal officials have also brought home significant dollars to improve mass transportation. Sens. Dodd & Lieberman and Rep. Shays have brought in millions for the intermodal prject in Bridgeport, improvements to Stamford train station and the 3d station in Fairfield, just to highlight a few (there are more but the post is getting too long).

I think that our state and federal officials have finally got it, quite frankly, and they are delivering.

But here is the most important issue and question: are our transportation problems (i.e. traffic congestion) going to be resolved by building more lanes on our highways or through more efficient and effective mass transportation?

I think the answer is clear. Like they said in the movie "if you build it, they will come." If you build more roads or highways, we will have more cars and be right back where we started.

Grumpy said...

Turfgrrl said - "...traffic congestion on I-95 and route 7 will lessen...

Corporations would be more comfortable relocating to the corridor... Office developments would diversify towns tax rolls... A diversified tax base helps keep residential property taxes down."

First, I'll acknowledge that I spend little time in Fairfield county and do not have direct experience with Route 7. But generally speaking, increasing road capacity produces a short term reduction in traffic congestion. However, it tends to produce a long-term increase in congestion. This is due to the "induced travel" effect. Essentially, increasing road capacity produces an increase in road use. So in the long term, you simply have more roads, and more congestion. Not exactly the outcome folks in Fairfield county are looking for.

There is some debate about the issue of induced travel. Google it yourself, or start with these links here and here. Environmental and public-interest advocates tend to believe that road building automatically produces the induced travel effect. More skeptical voices, are summed up in the federal DOT statement linked to above that, "FHWA's position reflects the consensus of the transportation planning and travel behavior research community that induced travel is neither more nor less than the cumulative result of individual traveler choices and land development decisions made in response to an improved level of transportation service.

Actually, this "debate" really isn't much of one at all. Pro-road building forces acknowledge that induced travel is a real, but not inevitable, outcome of road building. Instead, they blame the associated land-use decisions that increase sprawl, long-distance commutes, etc. Environmental and public-interest advocates on the other hand say that's exactly the point. Road building projects such as Super 7 are designed in ways that exacerbate the congestion problem by fueling sprawl and stretching commute distances longer than they already are.

Reading the comments of turfgrrl and others, it sounds as if they expect Super 7 to reduce congestion, which will in turn provide a spur for increased commercial development in southwestern Connecticut because it will now be easier for commuters to travel into Fairfield county from farther away. This is precisely the recipe for an "induced travel" disaster that would result in a horribly congested "Super 7" highway in the years ahead.

Grumpy said...

Anon 9:49 said what I didn't include in my earlier post. Mass transit is the transportation solution folks like turfgrrl should be supporting. Building robust transit options for commuters to travel into Fairfield County would produce economic benefits while reducing congestion.

Unfortunately, the mass transit options serving Fairfield county are more efficient at transporting commuters out of Fairfield County (to NYC) than they are at bringing commuters into the region.

Anonymous said...

turfgrrl - you have a link to something called a "Committee to Extend Route 7." Although the link encourages people to know where the candidates for Governor stand, it does not discuss what our federal officials think of this proposal. Where do Lieberman and Lamont stand on this issue?

What about Farrell and Shays? I am pretty sure that Shays is against expanding Super 7, but I have no idea where Farrell is. I have been told (and I guess this should come as no surprise) that Farrell won't take a position, and when in Norwalk she says "we need it" and when in Wilton she says "I am against it."

Since you are a supporter of hers, could we please get a yes or no answer from her. Really, just one word: yes (if she supports super 7) or no (if she is against it).

I'd be so shocked if she gave a yes or no answer that I might even vote for her.

turfgrrl said...

Mass transportation is a good thing, however this is not an either or situation. Connecticut sits between NYC and Boston. That is the Northeast Economic Corridor.

Sure more roads facilitates more drivers. But more road options facilitates shorter commutes and a better dispersal of cars.

Just look over at Westchester County which has more roads, more people and less traffic congestion.

The perennial stupidity of blocking roads is what has contributed most to sprawl and poor land use decisions by towns.

It is faster to drive down I-95 into NYC at rush hour than it is to drive to New Haven. Both are about 30 miles from Norwalk.

Today a tractor trailer overturned in New Haven at the I-95 -I-91 interchange. There is another fine example of an interchange that cannot handle the current capacity, despite the many programs and switching people to mass transit.

Roads just need to be built.

GMR said...

To those of you who say more roads brings more sprawl. Yes. And why is sprawl a bad thing? We have a growing population. Our country is at replacement level in terms of birth rates of native born Americans; we have an increased life expectancy; and we get many more immigrants than we have emigrees. In light of this, we need more housing, more roads, more stores, more employment, more everything.

If you don't have sprawl, then housing gets very expensive. Fairfield county is already pretty limited geographically: you can't add houses south of it, since that's Long Island Sound. So you've got to go north or east.

Wilton doesn't want more people driving through. But it also doesn't want more people living there: there are strict multi-acre zoning regulations in Wilton which restrict the amount of housing that can be built.

Stamford recently rejected the Trump tower, even though that would have been located in downtown, within walking distance of Metro North, restaurants, and numerous places of business.

I'm not against sprawl (which is usually defined as any development that takes place after someone moves somewhere). It's necessary to combat high housing costs.

Next, a common argument against building more roads is that they'll just fill up anyway, so what's the point. However, even if the road becomes congested again at some point (which it probably will), it will become congested at a greater capacity. This increased capacity will be the result of more jobs, more economic development. Right now, the roads are saturated. If they were to open up, they wouldn't become saturated until there was enough economic growth to fill them in. This is a good thing. A growing economy is a benefit, not a curse.

Think about this: when there was only Route 1 and no I-95, someone could have made the same argument: that Route 1 is enough because if they built I-95, they'll come. And there will be delays. However, even though I-95 is backed up, it has allowed the economy to grow. If it hadn't been built, Route 1 would certainly not have all the traffic that 95 has today, because the area would not have been developed and the economy would not have grown. And with a smaller economy, we'd all be poorer, or living somewhere else.

Mass transit may work for some, but there are considerable problems with mass transit. I've said it before: allow us to park at the train station without having to wait 10 years to get a parking pass. I've never understood how local transit authorities can spend billions building commuter rail, but then not put in a parking garage to accommodate the demand, since a parking garage is a cheap thing to build. In Darien, the locals even succeeded in preventing a parking garage because it would increase traffic. Also, it seems so weird that Metro North has some overhead wires, some third rail wires and no electric wires ON THE SAME LINE. The New Haven line has a third rail until somewhere in Westchester, then it has the overhead, and the spurs have Diesel. This makes it difficult to buy new cars, since no ready-made models work.

bluecoat said...

The Luddite attitude exemplified by Bluecoat causes the DOT to take its shovels where they are more welcome, if less necessary but I have long argued that first, ConnDOT is the most incompetent DOT in the country and secondly, that Super 7 should be finished but done in an appropriate manner with few interchanges between Norwalk and Danbury; I just believe ConnDOT got it wrong with the design of the Merritt/7 interchange. I wasn't even in on this exchange but the anonymous brought me in. My problem is with overdevelopment along these corridors without considering the capacity of the roads - and I also know you can't solve the congestion issue with mass transit alone. And folks should remember, that Jodi will only support Route 7, or any project, it if all the towns agree - she ain't gonna dirty herself by leading and causing any controvesy that needs resolution.

bluecoat said...

and this is where i again post the professioanl recommendations ofCongestion itigation System Plan - Vision 2020 which looked at the coastal corridor form greenwich to Branford and the three spurs up to Danbury, Shelton and Hamden but I recognize this is CT where Intersates are not recognized as limited access highway and where when it comes to this stuff black is white and up is down!!!!!!!!

turfgrrl said...

anonymous 10:16 -- You bring up a good idea, I should poll all candidates on where they stand on this issue. Farrell's transportation web page says coming soon. I guess I'll have to dig further there, but my recollection was that she supported Super 7 from her days on SWRPA.

Anonymous said...

The irony of the current situation in Wilton is delicious. For decades Wilton has blocked Super 7 for a variety of selfish reasons. Screw what the state needs, Wilton comes first.

Now driving through Wilton anywhere near route 7 is commuter hell. Their efforts to put Wilton above all has backfired in a big way.

All the traffic congestion that plagues once-beautiful Wilton could be happily gliding up Super 7 if it hadn't been blocked. The land was available, as were the funds.

Well, Wilton got their wish. The opportunity to build Super 7 passed. They didn't stop the commuters, they simply ensured that the commuters would clog Wilton's local streets for decades to come.

It's nice to see selfish behaviour backfire once and a while.