Detour returns this weekend: Route 7 traffic will be routed through center of town

The Route 7 traffic detour will be back this weekend, directing some 13,000 to 17,000 cars and trucks a day off of Route 7 and through the center of Ridgefield.

The detour is expected to start 8 p.m. Friday, June 23, and is authorized to last until 6 a.m. Monday, June 26 — although it may end earlier, as happened with the first detour weekend two weeks ago.

“If the contractor completes his tasks early they will open the road early as they did during the last detour,” said John Dunham, district engineer for the state Department of Transportation.

The detour will direct Route 7 traffic through the center of Ridgefield, via Route 102 and Route 35.

“Motorists should expect delays in town as a result of this detour and should allow extra time to reach their destination,” said Capt. Jeff Kreitz.

Dunham said the state is taking steps to try to make the coming weekend’s detour work a little more smoothly than the previous detour.

“We are going to add some signage to help direct motorists through the detour area and some increased police presence to help slow down vehicles through and around the local roads,” Dunham said.

Both Dunham and Kreitz acknowledged there were problems with the previous detour as some drivers used smaller local roads — particularly Florida Road, but also Cooper Hill Road — to avoid the longer route through the center of Ridgefield via the two state highways, Routes 102 and 35.

Ridgefield Police plan to station officers at either end of the detour: the intersections of Route 7 with Route 35 in the north, and Route 7 with Route 102 at the south end in Branchville.

And they’re going to try to discourage use of local roads as an alternative detour.

“We added an additional officer who will be stationed at Florida Road and Route 102 during peak hours,” said Kreitz.

There’ll also be an officer at the other end of the Florida Road shortcut — Route 7 and Florida Hill Road — much of the time, according to Kreitz.

And throughout the detour period there will also an officer at the work site, which is the bridge that carries Route 7 over the Norwalk River, just north of the 102 intersection in Branchville.

Each detour allows work to get done on the bridge.

“The contractor will be driving piles to support the bridge foundation this weekend,” Dunham said.

Magnificent seven

This weekend’s detour is the second five detours the state plans to do in that location this summer and early fall.

The bridge being improved dates to 1928 and was determined by the state to be “functionally obsolete and hydraulically inadequate, meaning it could not pass the  100 year flood  storm event,” according to Dunham.

Dunham was asked why the $3.5 million Route 7 bridge project is expected to be done on nights and weekends between spring and fall, while the $3.2-million Route 35 bridge replacement has been tying up traffic near the Fox Hill condominiums for months and months already and isn’t expected to be done until November or December.

He said the Route 35 project was being done without highway closures and accompanying detours, and that’s a contributing factor — the work takes longer if they can’t ever close the road.

“I checked into why the Route 35 bridge was not on an accelerated construction plan similar to the Route 7 project,” Dunham said.

“I’m told during the design coordination with the town officials the department was exploring a plan that would have closed Route 35 at the bridge for 6-8 weeks and implement a detour but the emergency services personnel objected to that plan. So the reasons were not technical but more based on stakeholder input.”

Neither the state nor the town did traffic counting during the first detour weekend June 9 to June 11. But studies the state did back in 2014, in anticipation of the project, found that the traffic already on Route 35 near the village on Saturday totaled about 12,400 cars, and the Saturday traffic on Route 7 — what’s being detoured through town — was an additional 17,200 vehicles. Sunday traffic on Main Street is about 10,300 vehicles, and another approximately 13,100 cars from Route 7 will be added to that, according to the state studies.

Dunham was hopeful this weekend’s detour will go smoothly.

“We believe the previous full weekend closure went well,” he said, “and we are looking to build upon the success of the previous closure.”