A transportation policy and planning group of leaders from eight southwestern Connecticut municipalities reaffirmed on Thursday its recommendation the state conduct a study of uses for the right-of-way for the uncompleted portion of the Route 7 expressway.
After a discussion that resulted in a change in wording from “Support for the Route 7 Expressway” to “Support for the Route 7 Corridor,” the group unanimously approved a resolution calling for a “comprehensive, multi-modal investment study” of the proposed path for the expressway, which extends from Interstate-95 in Norwalk to Interstate-84 in Danbury.
The group requested the same study be conducted in 2007.
Under consideration since the 1960s, portions of the Route 7 expressway were completed in Norwalk and Danbury, leaving a gap of more than 15 miles that would run through Wilton, Weston, Ridgefield and Redding. Fierce opposition by residents in those towns has stymied efforts by the state to complete the project.
In the interim, the state has been widening the existing Route 7 in Wilton. At the same time, the General Assembly passed legislation in 2008 allowing the state to sell properties acquired for the expressway to raise revenue.
The sensitiveness of the issue was displayed in the debate during Thursday’s meeting of the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (SWRMPO), which consists of the chief executives of Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Weston, Westport and Wilton. The meeting was held in the Norwalk Transit District’s headquarters on Wilson Avenue in Norwalk.
“Why are we wasting our time on this extremely costly and unaffordable proposal?,” asked William F. Brennan, first selectman of Wilton, who noted the state’s Department of Transportation does not include the Route 7 expressway in its long-range plans projected out to 2025.
Brennan said he met with senior officials of the Department of Transportation on Wednesday, and they told him they have no interest in the project and that it would cost millions of dollars to acquire the remaining land necessary for it. He said better use of the state’s transportation funds would be made by fixing Interstate-95, “the most overloaded interstate road in Connecticut.”
In reply to Brennan’s remarks, Woody Bliss, first selectman of Weston and chairman of SWRMPO, said the function of the group was to look toward the future of the infrastructure network of transportation in the region. Bliss said the organization voted unanimously in 2007 for the state to conduct a study of the Route 7 corridor, which could result in deciding to continue widening existing Route 7, building the “Super 7″ expressway, or constructing a light rail line.
The first selectman of Westport, Gordon F. Joseloff, said he had no problem with SWRMPO repeatedly reviewing plans for the Route 7 corridor because, “there’s a large turnover among our residents and the needs change, and unless we are willing to at least listen and sample we’re not doing our jobs.”
Norwalk’s Mayor Richard A. Moccia said no city has been more affected by the Route 7 expressway than Norwalk.
Between 1969 and 1992, the southern portion of the expressway was constructed in Norwalk between I-95 and Grist Mill Road. Known as the Route 7 connector, it currently unloads traffic at its northern terminus onto the existing Route 7 a short distance from the Wilton town line.
Moccia said Norwalk was “split in half” by the expressway, which “really set back our economic growth as far as logistically moving around the city and creating another barrier between neighborhoods.”
“Hopefully we can reach a reasonable course,” said Moccia. “Let’s look at this, let’s not dispose of the land yet, until we have a better idea” of what’s needed from the study.