Detour days: Route 7 traffic comes through town this weekend

An extra 17,000 cars and trucks a day will be going through Ridgefield center this weekend.

Route 7 will not be a through road — not in Branchville, all this weekend — and its traffic will be detoured through the village.

Yes, all the traffic on Route 7 — figured at about 17,000 vehicles a day on a Saturday and 13,000 on a Sunday, according to the state Department of Transportation — will be coming right down Main Street.

“Some people, when they look at me, wonder if I’ve lost my hair,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said when asked about the plan.

The closure of Route 7 will be a little north of its intersection with Route 102 in Branchville, and the detour will be via Routes 102 and Route 35. The highway closure and detour will last for 56 hours straight, starting Friday night at 8 p.m. and lasting until Monday morning, June 12, at 6 a.m.

With the weekend hours, the detour won’t take place when there’s work going on at the state’s bridge project on Route 35, by the Fox Hill condominiums — that’s a weekday job.

This weekend’s highway closure is part of a $3.5-million bridge replacement job that is expected to create four additional weekend-long highway closures, with detours through town, between now and fall —  probably two weekends in July, one in August, another in September.

The job will replace an unobtrusive bridge where The Norwalk River crosses under Route 7, shortly north of the train station — just a stone’s throw from The Little Pub.

While Route 7 will actually be closed in Branchville at the southern end of the detour route where bridge work is being done, at the northern end of the detour — at the intersection of Route 7 and Route 35 — the situation will be managed by Ridgefield Police.

That will allow local traffic to reach destinations along the more two miles of Route 7 between the Route 35 intersection and the Route 102 intersection in Branchville. But those two miles will be closed to through traffic.

Additional police

Capt. Jeff Kreitz of the Ridgefield Police said the department will have four additional officers on duty throughout the weekend — at the expense of the state and its contractor.

Police cars will set up at both ends of the detour — the intersection of Routes 7 and 102, and the intersection of Routes 7 and 35 — with another patrol car looking after things the area in between. And the fourth officer and police car will be stationed right where the bridge work is going on, just north of Route 102 in Branchville.

“There’s going to be signage up, and the detour’s going to be set up. The electronic message boards are going to be set up, advising of the road work ahead, and the detour route,” Kreitz said.

“The state is setting that up.”

Although locals will doubtless have their short-cuts and long-cuts around what seems an inevitable traffic snarl, Kreitz said the police will be trying to keep cars off of Ridgefield’s smaller local roads.

“Any of that through traffic, we do not want to inundate those roads at all,” he said.

“Is it going to be busier? Absolutely,” Kreitz said. “That’s just common sense.”

Fire Chief Jerry Myers said the firefighters who drive ambulances and fire trucks will be ready.

“Obviously, We’ll have a boatload of traffic running through town. But it’s Ridgefield, so we’re kind of used to a lot of traffic,” he said.

They’ll seek advice from the police, if necessary, on best way to get to emergencies.

“We’re already used to coordinating with the Police Department, and detouring if it seems appropriate.”

‘Functionally obsolete’

The bridge being replaced dates to 1928 according to John Dunham, district engineer for the state Department of Transportation. The decision to replace it was based on inspections which the state does every two years or so.

“The overall superstructure was rated as poor based upon field inspection,” Dunham said. “As a result of field inspection and engineering analysis the structure was determined to be functionally obsolete and hydraulically inadequate meaning it could not pass the 100 year flood  storm event.”

The state’s estimates of the amount of traffic that’ll be detoured through Ridgefield is based on traffic counts on Route 7 on a weekend in March 2014, which found 17,223 vehicles using the highway on Saturday, and 13,088 on Sunday.

At the time, the state also counted cars on Main Street, at the intersection of Routes 35/33 and 102, near Jesse Lee Church.

The totals were 12,432 on the Saturday, and 10,281 Sunday on Main Street near Route 102.

Based on those numbers, the detour from the Route 7 can be expected to more than double the usual Main Street traffic both Saturday and Sunday.

Double whammy

Marconi is frustrated that the town is caught between the traffic nightmares of two state bridge projects.

“We haven’t even finished the bridge project that been delay after delay and moving very slowly, when the state decides to do another bridge project, shut it down for five weekends — not continuous, but shut it down for five weekends — and divert the traffic through town,” he said.

Marconi can envision worrisome scenarios developing.

“A wide-load trailer coming down Route 7 is going to be detoured all the way up 102, take a right that’s almost impossible to take with a tractor trailer, onto Main Street, come down through Main Street and quite possibly not make it through the temporary bridge for two reasons — either too wide, or too heavy,” he said.

The expectation is to re-route trucks through Redding.

Marconi had other problems with the project.

“The detour road signs were put up a year ago, almost, for that project — and the one in front of town hall fell over and is leaning against the side of our building,” he said. “And no one even asked how that happened to it, which means no one’s ridden the route and inspected all of the detour signs.”

Business worries

People with businesses in the Main Street also had concerns about the detour.

“I’m berzerk about that,” said Ellen Burns of Books on the Common.

“If it’s gridlock all the Main Street merchants are going to lose...

“Is there a plan? All we know is they’re going to send cars up 102 and onto Main Street. It’s already crowded on Main Street.

“Why are they doing it in June? School’s not even out yet.”

She later expanded on that thought.

“Early June seems to be a particularly bad time for this to happen, both for the impact on our roads and on local businesses,” she said. “School is still in session, and college-age kids are home, making traffic much heavier than after the school year ends.

“For many retailers, June is second only to December in terms of revenue — the combination of graduation, Father’s Day, and the end of the school year makes June a very important month to our bottom line.”

She wondered if there was any plan to handle the doubling — or worse — of traffic on Main Street.

“Will there be police or others to direct traffic? What about the lights — will the timing be altered to allow for the additional traffic? Main Street is sometimes gridlocked even on a normal Saturday.”

Communication

Wayne Addessi of Addessi Jewelers also thought the situation should have been better planned.

“My first thought is to set a time so it has minimal impact on commerce and convenience. Can they set a time such as starting at 3 p.m. til 8 p.m. on Saturday, and all day Sunday?” he said.

“Also, my biggest beef from previous communications with DOT and town officials is the lack of communication…

“A suggestion is to encourage Waze and other technology. How the heck do you get around road construction other than seek new actionable realities? All the state and town seem to do is the same old reactions — and do nothing new.”

Ursula Hanavan of Interiors and Designs by Ursula was more positive.

“We’ll look at the glass half full. We’re getting a brand new bridge, that’s safe,” she said. “Possibly it will bring additional people to Ridgefield that would just zip by Ridgefield.”

Hanavan has found state transportation officials cooperative in discussing Main Street reconfigurations with local business people over the last year.

“They’re smart. They’re so responsive. They’ve listened,” she said.

“They don’t want to put us out of business — they want us to do well.”

Mike Principi, owner of the Chez Lenard hot dog stand, saw negatives and positives.

“It’s going to be lots of traffic. I’d assume it’s going to be frustrated drivers,” he said.

But out-of-towners driving through Ridgefield’s village for the first time might return.

“It’s going to open some eyes and turn some heads,” he said.

He also saw another upside.

“The slower the traffic, the more likely they are to pull over,” Principi said.

“I might just have to stock up and bring some extra hot dogs.”