|Super 7 |
Two sides of the same highway
by Robert J. Sodaro
Super 7. To those living in the greater Norwalk area those words evoke images of a gleaming, ultramodern superhighway, granting easy access to the northernmost reaches of the state, or an impending catastrophe, an environmental nightmare negatively impacting the quality of life of hundreds of individuals in its proposed path. In either scenario it translates out into a decades-long regional boondoggle with no easy resolution in sight.
Love it or hate it, there are few citizens living in the greater Norwalk area – or along the proposed northern path of the road – who have no opinion on the topic, and fewer still who are shy about expressing those feelings. One former local resident delights in telling the tale of how, when he first moved into the area from New York City in 1954 or thereabouts, he and his two brothers-in-law were looking to purchase a local business. They found a location they liked and wanted to buy it, but when they were questioning the locals about the business they were warned that the new and improved Route 7 was slated to come through the area and the store was directly in its path.
This “New and Improved” Route 7 (now dubbed Super 7) has been in the planning stages for nearly five decades. Originally, state and regional officials had planned an expressway to replace the existing US 7 between the cities of Norwalk and Danbury. Back in 1955, the Connecticut Highway Department began planning improvements to this corridor. Then a couple of years later, the State announced that the existing US 7 would be expanded from two to four lanes between Norwalk and Danbury and estimated that the project would be completed by 1962. Needless to say, except for some stretches, that widening never actually occurred.
Well, if state senator Bob Duff (D) – the majority whip representing the 25th senatorial district, which includes Norwalk and Darien – has his way, all of that will eventually change; one of his pet causes is to reinvigorate the debate regarding Super 7, and to actually get the decades-long project out of development hell and back on track. “Frankly, the only highway worth building in the state is Super 7,” the Senator recently told us. “It is a way of getting commerce back and forth. We have 2½ million square feet of commerce space at the base of Super 7 here in Norwalk. It’s an affordable housing issue as well because, and I can tell you – as a Realtor – when people can’t afford Norwalk and Stamford, they tend to go east instead of north, which increases traffic on I-95. They don’t consider going to Danbury because of the fact that Route 7 is so impossible.”
According to the website for the Committee to Extend Route 7 (www.route7.org) the Committee “regrets the proposed widening of the current Route 7. It is not a long-term solution. The widening will result in more congestion and air pollution, as the road narrows back to two lanes north of Olmstead Hill Road. The addition of six or more new traffic lights will only encourage commuters to use the side roads in ever-increasing numbers and with ever-increasing frequency.” The site then indicates that the Southwest Regional Planning Agency no longer supports the completion of this project as it currently stands. From his own standpoint as president of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, Ed Musante agrees, and is obviously also in favor of completing Super 7. He feels that while many have moved on from the debate, and that Super 7 has taken a backseat to other concerns, he feels that it is high time that the project received more attention, as it is a very important transportation issue for Norwalk and the surrounding area. “With the tremendous economic growth in Norwalk and other communities [Super 7] is important,” he stated. “Norwalk is an importer of labor, and there are not enough people to work in Norwalk; we need more workers.”
Needless to say, this importing of workers into the city is clogging all highways. “People come to southwestern Connecticut for employment. We don’t have a limited-access highway from the north.” Musante pointed out that Super 7 is an important element to reduce congestion in the smaller communities near Danbury, because as the main road(s) north gets congested people simply go to the back roads to avoid the traffic, snarling up those roads as well, which is no good for local residents.
While some (most notably Wilton First Selectman Bill Brennan) claim that building new roads would simply increase traffic, Senator Duff said that he felt constructing Super 7 would shunt some of the heavy traffic congestion currently on I-95 northwards towards I-84. Here Duff agreed with Musante that traffic heading north through Wilton, Ridgefield and other communities, which utilizes the back roads to avoid the old Route 7 gridlock, would benefit from the completion of Super 7. In fact, he went so far as to say that the current DOT project of widening the existing Route 7 is a complete waste of taxpayer money, as it simply wasn’t going to work because of the haphazard methodology of that widening project. Plus it is, simply put, “Too little too late.”
According to Senator Duff, the debate on the relative merits of Super 7 is not only far from over, there is apparently widespread support not just in Norwalk but throughout the region as well for completion of the road. “I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails from people in [Wilton] and other communities up and down the line that say, ‘Good for you.’” As did Musante, Senator Duff indicated that there was a strong economic benefit in our area (not just for Norwalk itself) to have a north-south connection between I-95 and I-84.
As can be expected, Wilton First Selectman Bill Brennan would prefer that Super 7 simply fade away into history, and the State move ahead with its plans to widen the existing route. He feels that building Super 7 is unrealistic, and that people should simply give the current plan to widen the existing 7 a chance to see what will happen. Plus he would prefer if the State would do what it could to reinvigorate the Norwalk-to-Danbury rail line and improve mass transit to bring people down on the train, as this would generate fewer cars and less pollution. Plus, according to Brennan, there are no federal or state funds to build Super 7, not to mention that the construction of the road would negatively impact hundreds of local residents as the road is constructed.
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Next “First Saturday” Walk: September 5, 10am
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Progress Along the Madison Trail
Wine Tastings This Fall to Benefit SGT
Who Are Our Volunteers?
Join the fun! Here’s the complete listing of our planned “First Saturday” walks for 2009!
Welcome to the Shoreline Greenway Trail
The Shoreline Greenway Trail will run through meadows and woods along the Sound from Lighthouse Point on New Haven Harbor for twenty-five miles to Hammonasset State Beach in Madison.
It is being built for non-motorized recreation and transit, section by section, through East Haven, Branford, Guilford and Madison. It will connect with parks, railroad stations, village centers and other trails as well as the East Coast Greenway that runs from Maine to Florida.
The Trail is for people of all ages – children, school kids, adults and seniors – who enjoy the outdoors, including walkers, hikers, bicyclists, runners, baby-carriage pushers and, when it snows, even cross-country skiers.
And the Trail is being designed throughout to be environmentally sensitive, safe, appropriate to the land, and acceptable to landowners.
The Trail is supported by all area political leaders and governments, and was awarded a federal appropriation of $2.65 million and $665,000 from the State of Connecticut. Each of the four towns – EastHaven, Branford, Guilford and Madison – has appropriated funds for an engineering survey of the whole route.
Almost 2,000 area families have been contributing to the Trail, recognizing that it will be a wonderful, recreational and health-enhancing resource for everyone.