State’s Main Street plans will get March 22 hearing

Improvements to Main Street — the state’s plans to realign the CVS driveway with Prospect Street, add “bump-outs” at crosswalks, replace some trees, repave — will be put before townspeople in two weeks.

A public hearing is planned Thursday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m. in the school board meeting room at the town hall annex.

“We needed a venue that was larger than our room,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

The meeting — like the plan — belongs to the state Department of Transportation (DOT).

The state has been at work on the projects for a few years, and initial meetings on it drew such a crowd that a small committee was appointed to work with the state planners, rather than have them try to design a project while accommodating feedback from a roomful of people.

The project is also now much less ambitious than some of the early alternatives that state designers came up with.

“It’s pretty basic,” Marconi said. “According to the DOT, they look at it as a basic ‘mill and pave’ job, with some bump-outs at crosswalks to shorten the distance a person has to be in the highway — green areas. The amount of parking stays about the same.

The major work will take place at the intersection of Prospect Street and the entrance to the CVS shopping plaza,” Marconi said. “Those two areas will be aligned — Prospect Street and the CVS entrance — to eliminate the ‘offset’ and the additional signalization that’s required to handle it.”

By moving the CVS entrance to be directly across from Prospect Street, an extra cycle in the light can be eliminated — allowing it to be synchronized with the Catoonah and Governor lights.

“The current level of service is considered to be F, and with the improvements it will go to a level of service C,” Marconi said.

“The ultimate objective is to improve the flow of traffic, and not the speed of traffic — the speed limits will not change,” he said.

“But the amount of congestion in town has certainly grown over the last 30 years, or 40 years — which was the last time we re-did downtown.”

Road surface

Another aspect of the project planned by the state involves work to rebuild the Main Street road surface from Governor Street most of the way to the Bailey Avenue-Catoonah Street intersection.

“Governor to about the Ridgefield News Store, Craig’s — the concrete located below the asphalt will need to be removed because they need to lower the center of the highway, more than what that concrete allows, to facilitate design standards,” Marconi said.

“I don’t get that,” he admitted. “The street’s been like this for at least 30-40 years. And why can’t they just mill it down and repave it, and leave the slopes that are there? It has to do with water flow, drianinge.”

The state also plans to replace some trees.

“There are going to be a couple of trees,” Marconi said. “The Tree Committee has that, and is reviewing it. There are not many, from what was looked at originally — that has been scaled back. …

“The number of trees to be replaced has diminished considerably since the beginning of the project. And the trees that are indicated to be replaced, Mr. Pinchbeck is in agreement, our tree warden.

“A couple by the library, and a couple more in front of CVS, and across the street — with maybe one or two in question. One is right in front of the Bissell building, I know, that’s not in good shape — that’s scheduled for replacement. John Pinchbeck and tree committee have the plans and are reviewing them.

“It is a state-owned road,” Marconi said. “They’re doing the design work. They ultimately will be the decision maker, but obviously, look for local input. And to that end, we’ve had a working committee for several months now, working with the DOT on a project that, initially, was much more aggressive than what we’re looking at today. This project has been cut back immensely.”

While the committee has been working with the state on the designs, a group of people with high interest in Main Street is lobbying Marconi to have the state make the plans available online, asking whether there will be additional hearings and how decisions will be made.

The group — including architects Sean O’Kane and Elizabeth DiSalvo, designer Helen Dimos and Main Street store owner Ellen Burns — requested a chance to share some thoughts with the state.

“We’d like the opportunity to share a new vision,” they said in an email to Marconi.

Bridge, timeline  

When the project was first under discussion a few years ago, town concerns focused on the look of Main Street, the loss of trees, the number of parking spaces.

More recently — since the Route 35 bridge project brought tremendous traffic problems — there has been an added concern about how traffic will be accommodated while the work is going on.

“I have brought up the fact that, due to the Route 35 bridge project, the credibility of the DOT being able to deliver a project that’s completed in a timely fashion has eroded,” Marconi said. “And that we are very concerned that this project not travel that same disastrous timeline, but be done efficiently with minimal interruptions.

“The DOT does admit that the Route 35 project should have been in a nighttime construction schedule. It was a mistake not to do that. But it was felt they, too, learned from that project, and assure us this project will not suffer from that same serious delay as the Route 35 bridge project.

“We’re working on the timeline now,” he said. “At this point they have expressed a willingness to work with the town in expediting the project.”