A fatal accident has galvanized interest in putting a traffic light on Route 7 where a motorcyclist slammed into a car making a cross-traffic turn into a senior citizen complex last Friday afternoon.
“We will get this done,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi vowed to a meeting of about 40 townhouse owners from The Regency at Ridgefield on Tuesday morning.
That afternoon, Town Engineer Charles Fisher told a Board of Selectmen’s meeting he would advertise for bids on the project next week.
The traffic light has been in works for about two years — a share of $150,000 cost was approved by voters as a capital item in the May 2012 budget referendum, and there were expectations it would soon proceed.
Design work started that August and some progress has been made. But for months now town officials have been awaiting approval from the state Department of Transportation and utilities that have to sign off on the plans.
The signal would be just north of Route 7’s intersection with Route 35 — where there’s already a light. It would regulate traffic flow at the driveway serving Regency at Ridgefield townhouses, Ridgefield Crossings assisted living, and Laurel Ridge Health Care Center.
The town has lined up a grant to cover half the estimated $150,000, with the remaining $75,000 to be shared between the town and private stakeholders at Regency, Laurel Ridge and Ridgefield Crossings.
Owners at the 73-unit Regency condominiums put the traffic light proposal on the town’s agenda two years ago. And in the months of waiting since, then they have lobbied town officials both one and one and in groups at public meetings.
Then, on Friday, a motorcyclist northbound on Route 7 hit a car that had been southbound, and was turning into the Regency complex driveway. The car’s driver was reportedly a woman going to visit her husband in the Laurel Ridge Health Care Center.
“The people here are really up in arms, and very very anxious,” said Stephen Mencher of Regency’s homeowners association.
“We’re not happy. We’ve already waited,” one Regency resident told Mr. Marconi and Town Engineer Charles Fisher on Tuesday.
“I feel like a prisoner here,” he said. “It’s gotten to the point the flow of traffic is just impossible.”
Before the Regency crowd Tuesday Mr. Marconi and Mr. Fisher reviewed all the steps the town had taken to prod the state Department of Transportation toward the approval needed to advance the project.
“I don’t blame you,” Mr. Fisher told the residents.
Last August, he said, the town had contracted with the design engineering firm, BL Companies, to handle the job.
There were field surveys, preliminary designs.
“It’s not just sticking a couple of poles in the ground and stringing a light,” he said. “There’s a lot of things to take into account — utilities, right-of-way locations.”
Everything had to be approved by the state Department of Transportation.
“Working with the DOT is a slow process,” he said.
When his consulting engineer turned in the preliminary designs, “the state took its time and responded with a laundry list of changes,” Mr. Fisher said.
The engineer sent DOT revisions based on the critique.
“Then they made more comments, and the second round of comments was bigger than the first round of comments,” Mr. Fisher said.
Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick told The Press Tuesday requests for “transportation infrastructure” such as traffic lights are reviewed by the state with consideration of the problems at the specific location, but also with an eye to maintaining a uniform traffic standards across the state.
The state’s roads must present a system rules and signs and signals that drivers will trust as sensible and necessary — or they won’t obey them.
“The general public thinks it’s a simple process to decide if, when and where you install these devices. It’s much more complicated,” he said. “You have various criteria you want to meet before you install these things…
“To keep the confidence of the motoring public, you only install devices where they’re justified and warranted, as per accepted transportation principles and engineering principals.
“Believe me, you have people who are constantly asking for a traffic signal here or there, or a stop sign here or there,” he said. “If you install these without meeting the warranting criteria, you lose the confidence and compliance of the motoring public.”
The Route 7 light approval has been progressing through the review system.
“I think they should be right on the border of being done with design and ready to move ahead with construction,” Mr. Nursick said.
Monday Mr. Fisher said his communications with the town’s engineering consultant on the project, Fred Greenberg of Meriden-based BL Companies, indicated that the needed state DOT approval awaited CL&P’s agreement.
He shared an e-mail exchange from that morning.
“I am growing concerned about the lack of progress on this project,” Mr. Fisher wrote. “On Friday afternoon a fatality occurred at this intersection. When can I expect to receive contract documents so that we can place this project out to bid?”
Mr. Greenberg replied: “I am still trying to finalize some utility clearance issues with CL&P. They have been impossible to work with on this project. Once I have those resolved, I can get CTDOT to sign off.”
CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross said Tuesday that part of the “clearance” problem was that the electrical lines were hung from poles owned by AT&T, another company.
“These are AT&T’s poles, so AT&T is being brought into the discussion,” Mr. Gross said.
“We certainly understand the desire to move this along as quickly as possible, and are working with the town, and DOT and, of course, AT&T,” Mr. Gross said. “Moving our equipment will be coordinated with AT&T. We can’t move our stuff until they put new poles up, basically, or they relocate the poles.”
Tuesday, following the morning meeting with Regency residents and the noon selectmen’s meeting at which he announced he would advertising for bids next week, Mr. Fisher explained the change in approach.
“I called Fred Greenberg, the project manager for this project, immediately after the meeting to get a status report and talk about the meeting with the Regency residents,” Mr. Fisher said. “Mr. Greenberg felt that the project was far enough along now that we can advertise, any additional comments from the review agencies or utilities could be addressed in a bid addendum. I anticipate advertising the project next Friday.”
Mr. Fisher said the state required that adverting for bids go on 30 days. Once bids are in, the successful low bidder must be vetted by the town, with state oversight, before a contract is awarded. That usually take about two weeks.
He wasn’t sure how long the construction would take once the bid is awarded.
“I would imagine it’ll be maybe 60 days, 90 days at the most,” Mr. Fisher said.
Mr. Marconi agreed to have regular meetings with Regency homeowners to keep them updated on the progress.
And he assured them that the fatal accident had made an impression on everyone.
“All of us in the town understand exactly how you feel,” Mr. Marconi said.
“I feel badly for the gentleman who was killed — 50 years old. I feel badly for the lady who made the turn.”
This week’s Ridgefield Press also contains several letters dealing with the traffic on this stretch of Route 7.