Highway to ?

by Allan Appel | January 25, 2007 9:04 AM | | Comments (1)

IMG_0739.JPGOn Wednesday night, Diana Randall of City Point was trying to transport herself, in her imagination, to the year 2013 to imagine what the frequently clogged mile of I-95 between Howard Avenue and Canal Dock Road will look like.

Randall was one of more than a hundred concerned citizens, environmentalists, historic preservationists, and property owners who gathered at Gateway Community College to air their views, polite but passionate, on the effects of the project on parks, people, noise, access to the water, and economic development

“What I’m really concerned about is whether the Long Wharf Nature Preserve will be affected. And frankly I’d love Long Wharf Drive to be turned into a park,” Randall said.

Randall then would be choosing option 2A, to which she is pointing in the picture. That was one of six options proposed by The State Department of Transportation, which convened the meeting, by law, to gather data for what is termed the Long Wharf Environmental Assessment. The distillation of public comment and a recommendation will be presented in a more formal hearing in May.

IMG_0750.JPGSix options “” really five, because one is “no build,” which seemed not to be considered seriously “” were reviewed by people like Alex Johnston, president of the City Point Historic District Neighborhood Association. He expressed particular concern with noise impacts of the widened road. “It’s ironic,” he said, “how this highway that divided us for 40 years is now bringing us together on noise impacts and these other issues.”

IMG_0752.JPGAll the options widen the road one lane in each direction, relocate an interchange to Sargent and Long Wharf drives, and propose a pedestrian bridge over the highway at the Church Street Extension to Long Wharf Park. Two, with variations, will close part of Long Wharf Drive to vehicles, creating a path for cyclists and enlarging the park; the redirected traffic could use a proposed “ring road” connecting behind the Sargent Drive properties between Brewery Street and Long Wharf Drive Extension. Three other options, with variations, would maintain Long Wharf Drive for through traffic.

IMG_0747.JPGWhile many younger people in the room were delighted with the prospect of an enlarged Long Wharf Park, Alderwoman Dolores Colon, in whose district all the action is taking place, brought the perspective of the many senior citizens she represents. “If it has to be a park,” she said, “couldn’t there be a way to preserve the Long Wharf Drive? The seniors I represent don’t want to get on I-95 and go up against eighteen-wheelers if they want to get to East Haven; they like a nice quiet local street.”

IMG_0740.JPGIn the opinion of Cordalie Benoit: “If I had it my way they should take all the millions they are spending on this and put in light rail from Hartford. And what about those electric trolleys in town? Why don’t they come down to the water? I’m also for congestion pricing, that is, you pay more if you drive into a congested zone.” But those were Benoit’s unofficial remarks. Formally, as president of Elm City Park Conservancy, she submitted to the DOT in writing the request that Bay View Park in City Point be enhanced, not diminished, by the highway plan, and that the path that runs through Long Wharf Nature Preserve to West Haven also be preserved as a link in the East Coast Greenway.

IMG_0746.JPGHelen Liveten, a member of the Long Wharf Nature Preserve steering committee, was also passionate. “You have the legal privilege,” she said to the DOT officials, “to take that land for the expanded highway, but you do not have the environmental privilege. Please take care.”

Longtime activist Chris Ozyck praised the pedestrian overpass as a necessary linkage to bring people by foot and bike from downtown to the harbor. He said similar access to the water from the Hill should not be overlooked.

Then he put the project in a larger context. “This gives a chance to readdress some of the mess the highway created. Increasingly people want to come down to the water. Everything you do,” he urged officials, “please emphasize people, and the green aspects of it, including storms and run-off, all crucial.”

IMG_0751.JPGOne audience member urged officials to remember that New Haven Harbor is one of perhaps two points at which I-95 comes down close to Long Island Sound, that is, the harbor, and to maximize visual access. Another person turned to Karyn Gilvarg, the head of City Plan, and asked if the city is speaking to the state to preserve the importance of this mile of I-95, which functions to the entire world as a “gateway” to New Haven.

“The plan is at a preliminary point,” Gilvarg answered, “so that we’re not dealing yet with signage or design, but, by all means, we are aware of this.” When a reporter asked Gilvarg if she was going to make formal remarks on behalf of the city, she said she hoped citizens would make the important points. In writing, however, she did submit the recommendations of the City Plan Department, which supports option 2B. A ring road, and the economic development that might cluster around it, is at the heart of 2B, and among other reasons cited for the city’s endorsement. “2B,” Gilvarg wrote “will provide capacity and safety enhancement for the highway while improving City and regional access to nearly a mile of publicly owned waterfront park by abandoning Long Wharf Drive to through traffic.”

IMG_0749.JPG As the meeting ended Thomas Harley, the DOT’s design consultant for the project, suggested that as a man concerned with keeping traffic moving, he was leaning himself toward keeping Long Wharf Drive open. That this might mean dropping the city-inspired ring road concept was not lost on anyone, especially not Karyn Gilvarg.

“The federal government spends $500 million a year on highways. We in the city, in the southern region of Connecticut, have maybe $5 million. We need to trigger those federal funds. The likelihood of doing the ring road without federal participation is low.”

And so it went. With traffic volume projection for this plan taken out to the year 2030, there was a palpable sense in the audience, even at this preliminary hearing, that the decisions about to be made would be far-reaching. “We’re on such a constrained footprint,” said Alex Johnston, “there’s no more room to expand down here but one lane, and we need to do it right, because not only are we going to live with it but our children. All the city’s organizations can work to make the case for getting sound barriers for the whole of the area, and for advancing all these things that have been discussed.”

“I feel pretty good about the barriers,” said Harley. “And when we meet again in May, we’ll distill all this into the general concept of the alternative we think best.”

Stay tuned. Maps on all six options under discussion, as well as the traffic studies underlying them, are available for the public to view at the Hall of Records, in the office of the City Clerk, 200 Orange St.

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Posted by: question | January 25, 2007 3:24 PM

How come this wasn't explored during the Q-bridge planning? I would think that any changes, and how to make them work with the 91 and 95 connections would have been more than obvious to any planner at either the State or City level. It is a shame that so many people are asleep at the wheel. It is ever growing how apparent the lack of good planning and leadership is in the city. There are lots of smart people with good ideas, but little effective action. I think our citizens are smarter than our administrators, maybe becuase they live here.

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