Route 7 detours set to return this weekend
A scad-zillion or so more cars drove through town, but this weekend’s detour traffic didn’t seem to translate into people stopping and spending money — some local businesses found the opposite effect.
And the detour — accommodating a bridge reconstruction project in Branchville by sending all Route 7 traffic through the center of Ridgefield via Route 102 and Route 35 — is scheduled to have an encore performance the weekend of Friday, June 23 through Sunday, June 25.
Last weekend’s closure was the first of five on Route 7 to accommodate work on the bridge which allows the Norwalk River to flow under the state highway, just north of the intersection of Route 102.
“The next time they’re going to do it is the 23rd, Friday, and 24th, Saturday, of June. They’re not sure whether or not they’re going to need the 25th, Sunday,” Police Chief John Roche said Monday.
“It went as expected,” Roche said the first detour weekend. “There really were no surprises, other than we did expect some traffic would be on Florida Road, but not the extent it was.”
“It was a learning experience,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “I think the police department did an admirable job. They eventually had to close Florida Road, as well as Cooper Hill, because cars were cutting across.”
The first selectman added that mobile devices directed drivers to use the side roads.
“Everybody is using apps to get to the quickest route, and they direct them to Florida Road,” he told The Press.
“We did end up closing it as best we could to through traffic. Locals could still go on it,” Chief Roche said. “It’s a public road, so you can’t prevent all traffic unless there’s a hazard on the road.”
Businesses in town didn’t have any choice but to cope with it.
“It made a huge difference in the business, because the accessibility was very limited,” said Wilson Forero, manager of the Village Tavern on Main Street.
“Normally, Saturdays for lunch is just quite busy,” he said.
“Because of the gridlock and bumper-to-bumper and detour, people didn’t know how to get here,” he said. “Local people didn’t bother to come in.”
The restaurant, which features outdoor dining on the sidewalk, did get a little business from people who were driving through.
“They just wanted to get out and use the bathroom, and get something to eat and something to drink,” he said.
But that didn’t make up for the drop in local customers.
“For a restaurant that is normally packed Saturday lunch and dinner, it was extremely unusual to see the difference,” he said.
“I spoke to other local restaurants and they were having the same situation.”
Don’t forget the heat
Bill Craig owns Craig’s Fine Jewelry on Main Street, and is part of the Downtown Ridgefield association.
“Business was hard, whether it was the heat or traffic — I don't know,” Craig said.
“I was in town, and traffic was a mess,” he said. “Going south on 35 it was backed up to the bottom of the hill before Limestone gas station. I took the back roads and so did a lot of other people.”
Deborah Backes owns Deborah Ann’s Sweet Shoppe, on the other side of Main Street from The Village Tavern and Craig’s.
“There was a ton of traffic,” she said.
But Backes said her candy store wasn’t the type of place that would really feel the effect.
“It didn’t hurt us,” she said Tuesday. “A beautiful Saturday, it’s going to be busy — a Saturday in June.”
Work to do
Backes did find the traffic bothersome, and thought the return to the detour on the June 23-25 weekend might show more of a dropoff in business as people who have experienced it stay away.
“I was driving through town and I was saying: ‘What was I thinking? I’m not doing that again.’”
But, the bridge repair is something she can support.
“What are you going to do? There’s work to do — gotta fix it.”
Earlier than expected
The detour actually didn’t last a long as expected. It started at 8 Friday night and was scheduled to go through to the wee hours of Monday morning — but it ended mid-morning on Sunday.
“The contractor was able to open the road up about 10:30 which was good news,” said John Dunham, district engineer with the state Department of Transportation.
“Mostly the detour went well, from my conversations,” he said Tuesday. “I will be meeting with my team tomorrow and still need to get together with the first selectman to understand if there were any further complaints.”
Chief Roche said one of the reasons the police used orange cones to semi-close smaller roads like Florida and Copper Hill — that could be used to get around the detour — was the prospect of big trucks taking them.
It’s sometimes a problem when there’s a detour due to an accident on Route 7.
“Florida can’t handle trucks, that why we try to direct all trucks up 102 to 35,” Roche said.
“Most of the traffic we did see, it was more passenger vehicles.
“Hopefully, with the next run-around, we’ll have more signage and and be able to alleviate some of that flow of traffic on Florida,” he said.
Members of the department are going to meet with state officials to talk about how things went, with an eye to making the next detour work better.
“Sort of an after-action,” Chief Roche said, “what we need, what’s going to be important the next weekend this does occur. We’re going ask them to get more signage.”
‘Weak at best’
First Selectman Marconi shared that concern.
“The signage was weak at best, in that there were not detour signs that continued up 102, allowing people from out of the town to know they were still on the right road,” Marconi said
He saw the problem as he came back up Route 102.
“I was behind a person that was obviously lost that took a left onto Old Branchville at the top of the hill,” Marconi said.
“So, it was not as bad as it could have been, but it wasn’t good.”