NEW HAVEN — At a meeting of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Wednesday night it was announced the first pair of new M-8 rail cars for Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line are expected to arrive in Baltimore Dec. 2. The cars are aboard a cargo ship that departed from Kobe, Japan.
Speaking to council members in a Connecticut Department of Transportation conference room in New Haven’s Union Station, Eugene Colonese, rail administrator for ConnDOT, said that after the cars are unloaded in Baltimore it will probably require two weeks to prepare them before they can be towed to New Haven.
A total of 300 M-8 cars are on order from Kawasaki Heavy Industries under a $750 million contract. The first 38 cars will be built in Japan with the remainder in Kawasaki’s factory in Nebraska.
In previous announcements, ConnDOT said testing the cars will take several months, possibly allowing some to begin carrying passengers in revenue service toward the end of 2010.
The new cars will be replacing ones in service for 30 or more years. ConnDOT has said they will result in an 18-to-20 percent increase in seating capacity on the New Haven Line.
WILTON — An eight-person coalition of opponents to constructing a new Route 7 expressway from Norwalk to Danbury spoke in Wilton Tuesday morning about why this “dead road,” as one described it, should never be built.
Led by state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-26th Dist., each took a turn in Wilton Town Hall presenting reasons why they thought the state should not go forward with its construction, which ranged from damaging wetlands and increasing air pollution to awaiting the results of widening the existing Route 7 and exploiting opportunities to increase service on the Danbury branch of the Metro-North Railroad.
Identifying it as a “dead road,” Boucher said that after a 50-year discussion, every proposal for the expressway has been scrapped after encountering “oftentimes bitter opposition.” And besides repeated rejection by residents in the towns through which it would run, Boucher said current environmental regulations and road design requirements would prohibit its construction along its proposed path.
“The difficult and dangerous topography of the area and new federal guidelines for highway grades have rendered any proposal for a superhighway in this location so costly as to render it untenable,” Boucher said.
Portions of the southern end of the project were completed in Norwalk between 1969 and 1992, resulting in 3.9 miles of four-land highway connecting Interstate-95 to the Merritt Parkway and continuing to Grist Mill Rd. On the northern end, 9.9 miles of multi-lane highway were constructed from Danbury to Brookfield between 1961 and 1992.
The proposed extension of the Route 7 expressway, also known as “Super 7,” would run for about 15.5 miles through Wilton, Weston, Ridgefield and Redding. Of those four towns, only Weston’s First Selectman Woody Bliss has supported building the road.
The opponents at Tuesday’s presentation expressed exasperation that despite numerous town meetings, state studies and a decades-long court fight, efforts to build the road have arisen again.
Currently, the road’s leading proponent has been state Sen. Bob Duff, D-25th Dist., who earlier this month released the results of a survey conducted by the University of Connecticut — Stamford Campus that indicated a majority of support for the proposed expressway by residents of the towns through which it would traverse, as well as surrounding municipalities.
But Gail Lavielle, commissioner of the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission and, according to Boucher, an authority in polling methodology, described the survey touted by Duff as being inadequate to its purpose and, “far more disturbing, misleading to the public and worried and frightened people who had been reassured that the threat of having their lives disrupted by an expressway had disappeared.”
After pointing to weaknesses she saw in the survey’s sampling methodology, Lavielle said, “claiming that a survey like this shows overwhelming support for Super 7 is not only misleading, it’s just wrong.”
Identifying an impediment to building the Route 7 expressway that has not drawn much attention before, John Chew, executive director of the Brookfield-based Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials, said the current widening of existing Route 7 in Danbury is using the right-of-way for the proposed expressway.
With the current project costing $80 million, Chew said no government agency would agree to rip up Route 7 in Danbury after it’s been widened, so, “You can’t reach Danbury with Super 7 … because where you’re getting into Danbury is taken. It’s a valley; there’s no place else to go.”
Robert Nerney, Wilton’s director of planning and land use management, said that, if constructed, the Route 7 expressway “would have an enormous adverse impact on not only Wilton, but I think fair to say, on lower Fairfield County in general.”
Nerney said the ecological impact arising from a project of its magnitude would “significantly compromise” the waterside aquifers and air quality along the Norwalk River.
Patricia Sesto, Wilton’s director of environmental affairs, said the proposed Route 7 expressway’s right-of-way is largely placed within the Norwalk River valley, which is already “consumed” by the railroad’s Danbury Branch and existing Route 7. The Super 7 expressway, she said, would have little choice but to traverse the outlying hillside of the river valley, which is characterized, in part, by very steep slopes.
Sesto presented a list of hazards to the Norwalk River she saw occurring if the expressway were constructed, and said that in the era when the road was originally proposed, “our knowledge regarding wetlands, habitat and river protection was far narrower than it is today.”
“Given these environmental considerations,” Sesto said, “it is unclear if the highway is still worth the environmental price, or if the path that was proposed four decades ago is even still the best path.”
Arguing that both the federal government and Connecticut are deeply in debt, the first selectman of Wilton, William F. Brennan, said any available funds should be used to improve Interstate-95, “the most overloaded interstate road in Connecticut.” Brennan said the Route 7 expressway would worsen conditions on I-95 by feeding thousands of additional cars onto it.
“For almost40 years (the Route 7 expressway) has been discussed, but never constructed,” said Brennan, “(because) the people most impacted have strongly opposed it, they do not want it, and any efforts to resuscitate interest have been repeatedly defeated.”
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s presentations, Boucher handed out a notice requesting residents and elected officials speak against the expressway at the next meeting of the Municipal Planning Organization of the South Western Regional Planning Agency.
During its September meeting, the MPO reiterated its request that the state conduct a study of possible uses for the right-of-way of the proposed Route 7 expressway. The MPO next meets on Thursday, Oct. 22, at 8 a.m. in the Norwalk Transit District’s headquarters at 275 Wilton Ave. in Norwalk.
FAIRFIELD — With an excavator and bulldozer behind him as backdrop, Vice President Joe Biden on Monday said federal recovery funds are doing more than helping cover the cost of reconstructing portions of the Merritt Parkway. Joined by Sen. Christopher Dodd and Fourth District Rep. Jim Himes in a park-and-ride lot at exit 46 of the parkway, Biden said the funds are also rebuilding the country’s economy and its future.
About 300 people attended the mid-afternoon event, which also drew about a dozen anti-Dodd protesters.
Beside repairing infrastructure, Biden said, “We’re reinvesting in getting people off their knees, back to work, but also toward something — a more resilient, a transformative economy.”
Biden said the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act also has saved the jobs of 2,500 educators in Connecticut who would have been laid off in September. The recovery act, said Biden, is more than about jobs, “it’s about staying competitive in the 21st century, so we can lead the world in the 21st century, as we did in the 20th.”
Overall, Biden said, the U.S. Department of Transportation has made available $48.1 billion for transportation projects nationwide.
Himes said the most important thing we must focus on is getting America back to work.
“There’s no better social program in the United States of America,” said Himes, “than a good-paying job.”
Dodd said the American dream lives on in Connecticut because we still know how to build things, and have a skilled and competent workforce.
He said funds from the federal recovery act have saved 41,000 jobs in Connecticut, and the state, he said, is poised to receive another $1.6 billion in direct aid, and an additional $1.3 billion in Medicaid assistance, “thanks to Congress and the Obama administration.” These funds, he said, are going to make Connecticut’s roads safer, more environmentally friendly, easier to drive on and less congested. “We’re going to rebuild this economy by rebuilding our infrastructure in this nation.”
Digressing to the Obama administration’s goal of providing health insurance to nearly everyone in the country, Dodd said, “It’s a shame in America that too many of our people are uninsured and, by the way, we’re going to get that public (insurance plan) option for Americans. They deserve it.”
Craig Miller, the project superintendent for O&G Construction Co. in Torrington — the contractor for the “Safety Improvements of the Merritt Parkway Federal Stimulus Project” — said the project employs operating engineers, laborers, carpenters, masons and Teamsters, with 60 to 70 workers on the job day and night. Including sub-contractors, Miller estimated 100 people will be employed in the course of the project.
Dodd has been receiving low poll numbers and may face a Democratic primary next year. He also recently had surgery for prostate cancer.
Gesturing toward Dodd, Biden said, “This is my single best friend in the United States Congress, and one of my closest friends, period.” The best news of the day, he said, is that Dodd got a call on Friday saying “he is cancer free.”
Some of the protesters carried signs opposing Dodd’s reelection. They were restricted to a location overlooking the park-and-ride lot that was at a distance where their vocal protests could barely be heard.
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.
Despite a mandate from the General Assembly, a fare increase set to begin January 1st for the New Haven rail line in Connecticut can’t be put into effect because the increase hasn’t been presented for comment at public hearings, the head of the state’s Department of Transportation announced Wednesday night.
“It is unlikely we’ll be able to implement that in January 2010 because of the notification requirements,” said Commissioner Joseph F. Marie at a meeting in Stamford of the Connecticut Metro North-Shoreline East Rail Commuter Council.
Based on what is required statutorily and regulatorily in Connecticut, Marie said, the mandated fare increase of 1.25 percent “is likely to slide back some.”
For the same reason, he said, an implied requirement in the state’s recently passed budget to increase fares by 10 percent also is on hold. Without calling for a fare increase, the legislature said in the budget the state’s subsidy for operating the New Haven line would be reduced on October 1 by the equivalent of a 10 percent increase in fares.
“At this point we’re looking for guidance from the legislature in terms of the overall intent of that language,” Marie said.
Marie said his department attempted to hold public hearings on a fare increase months ago, but for a variety of reasons could not. He said unless the legislature changes the requirement for hearings, the earliest a fare increase could occur would be next March or April.
Marie said he would be submitting a letter to the legislature next week with Robert L. Genuario, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, presenting a realistic scenario of when a fare increase could be implemented.
The General Assembly will be in session next Wednesday and Thursday, and Marie said his department will be submitting a plan to legislators with a range of options and service modifications “that will allow us to achieve what the legislature has laid out for us in terms of cuts that are required.”
Marie said his department is in a very difficult situation covering the cost of operating the railroad, with the hard choice of cutting service or increasing fares. Either option is undesirable, he said, because, “We want to maximize the ridership on our rail transportation network. It’s a great asset.”
The southbound lanes of Interstate 95 between exits 24 and 17 (Fairfield to Westport) are being milled and resurfaced overnight until Thursday, Oct. 22. Work is occuring Monday through Thursday from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Results of a survey on the proposed extension of a new, multi-lane Route 7 from Norwalk to Danbury show more than half the residents queried support its construction.
Residents in 10 communities the expressway would run through or are close to its proposed route were contacted, with 53 percent of 486 respondents favoring the project.
The study was conducted by the University of Connecticut — Stamford Campus on behalf of a panel of politicians, civic leaders and a carpenters union labor-management program who support building it.
Proposals to build a new “Super 7″ date back to the mid-1950s, and from the start, have drawn vociferous opposition from environmental groups and residents of the towns through which the road would run.
State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25th Dist.) has led the charge in recent years to get the road built, and at a news conference Wednesday morning he said the survey’s results revealed what he thought all along, “there is a tremendous amount of support to build Super 7 from Norwalk to Danbury.”
Sections of the new road have already been built in Norwalk and Danbury. The proposed route calls for the rest of the road to run through Wilton, Weston, Ridgefield and Redding.
Besides polling residents in those towns and Norwalk and Danbury, the survey also obtained input from residents in three nearby towns, Westport, New Canaan and Darien.
Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss joined state Sen. Bob Duff at a news conference Wednesday morning in the Hilton Garden hotel on Main Ave. in Norwalk where the results of a survey on the proposed construction of Super 7 were released.
Overall, 6.2 percent of the respondents opposed Super 7, 53.1 percent supported it, 27.4 percent were neutral, and 13.2 percent did not know enough about it to have an opinion. More residents in the towns the road would run through supported it, 54.7 percent, than those living in surrounding towns, 48.4 percent.
The highest level of support was found in Norwalk — 54.3 percent for, 4.9 percent against, 26.2 percent neutral, 14.6 percent “don’t know” — and Danbury, 65 percent for, 3 percent opposed, 24 percent neutral, 8 percent “don’t know.”
The lowest level of support was found in Ridgefield — 46.9 percent for, 18.8 percent opposed, 15.6 percent neutral, 18.8 percent “don’t know” — and Wilton — 43.8 percent for, 15.6 percent opposed, 34.4 percent neutral, 6.3 percent “don’t know.”
Summarizing the results of the survey, Duff, who is vice chairman of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, said, “Across the board, we found a tremendous amount of support, and very, very little opposition to the Super 7 expressway, especially in the affected towns.”
A leading opponent of the proposed expressway, state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26th Dist.), represents Wilton, Bethel, New Canaan, Weston, Westport, Redding and Ridgefield. In a written statement released Wednesday afternoon, Boucher said the results of the survey “are inconsistent with what I know about my constituents.”
Boucher questioned the survey’s sampling methodology, and noted that more than half of its respondents were from Norwalk and Danbury, “where Super 7 would not be cutting straight THROUGH houses and environmental features.”
Noting the state has taken the expressway off all planning documents and is in the process of widening the existing Route 7, Boucher said, “It seems to me that Sen. Duff is beating a dead horse.”
Portions of the southern end of the project were completed in Norwalk between 1969 and 1992, rsulting in 3.9 miles of four-land highway connecting Interstate-95 to the Merritt Parkway and continuing to Grist Mill Rd. On the northern end, 9.9 miles of multi-lane highway was constructed from Danbury to Brookfield between 1961 and 1992.
The proposed extension of Super 7 would run 15.5 miles, according to the website nycroads.com, which has an 11-page section covering the history of the project.
Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss, who is a member of the panel that commissioned the survey, said about 80 percent of the land that would be needed for the expressway is owned by the state. In her statement, Boucher said the remaining property the project would require includes valuable wetlands that cannot be replicated or mitigated, “making it nearly impossible to obtain necessary environmental permits.”
The survey was funded by a $10,000 grant from the state senate’s Democratic caucus. The entire the survey is available on-line at www.senatedems.ct.gov/Route 7.
ConnDOT will be holding a public hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 23, about the rehabilitation of the Burnell Blvd. bridge, which traverses the Norwalk River and Metro-North’s Danbury Branch, connecting Main St. to Belden Ave. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in room 231 in City Hall.
Construction will be conducted in two phases; the first beginning in the fall of 2010, and the second in 2012.
The first phase involves fixing the portion of the bridge that crosses the rail tracks. A detour will be utilized for this work. Construction of the second phase will involve replacing the three-span bridge with a two-span bridge. This work will be performed in two stages, maintaining one lane of traffic in the westbound direction only. Eastbound traffic will be detoured around the site. Pedestrian traffic will be maintained throughout construction.
ConnDOT personnel will be on hand at the meeting with plans for review. The estimated cost of the project is $15 million, which will be paid for with state and federal funds.
The plans can also be examined at the transportation department’s office in Newington. Call (860) 594-3402 or (860) 563-9375 to make an appointment.
Over at the Advocate, Brian Lockhart is reporting that the DOT has prepared a list of properties, that include homes along the proposed Super 7 corridor, which are “officially” recomended to be sold. I guess the state is thinking desperate measures in desperate times.
Marie did not specifically advise selling the vacant land. But he told Rell that 14 improved parcels — properties with homes in Wilton, Ridgefield, Redding and Danbury — have been “a liability to the department” and are valued at $6.6 million.
The state acquired the Super 7 properties decades ago to build a four- to six-lane expressway from Norwalk to Danbury.
Long-standing opposition from environmentalists and smaller towns along the route has all but eliminated prospects for Super 7′s completion, and the DOT is widening the existing Route 7.
Over the years, the DOT has rented the 14 homes to tenants, resulting in a modest income.
According to DOT data, the monthly rent ranges from around $1,158 for a ranch-style house at 29 Fire Hill Road in Ridgefield, built in 1950, to $3,000 for the colonial at 11 West Stars Plain Road in Danbury, built before 1967.
But Marie told Rell the lengthy amount of time it takes the state to arrange lease agreements and obtain tenants can result in vacancies, which lead to vagrancy and vandalism.
And funny that somehow lost in all this bureaucratic ennui about taking time to arrange lease agreements and having vacancies that no one has figured out that the state has this little ole statute called 8-30 G, whose sole purpose is to encourage towns that have less then 10% of their residential units as affordable housing to do something about it. Towns like Wilton, Ridgefield and REdding, where collectively if they have more than 7 units of affordable housing I’d be surprised.
So why not designate these homes as affordable housing instead of selling them at the bottom of the real estate market, as Rell seemingly suggests.