A dark East Rock underpass is about to get brighter, thanks to a few rounds of happy hour drinks.
That outcome emerged from the fifth-ever “Munchies & Mingle,” a community happy hour organized by Cedar Hill activist Camille Ansley.
Held at Dashi on upper State Street, the regular happy hour brings together New Haveners from different neighborhoods together to talk through municipal hurdles they’re facing, from school enrollment and the Board of Education to illegal dumping in their driveways.
Ansley said she never knows who will show up at Munchies & Mingle. She sends email notices to friends, organizers, and city officials a few weeks before each event, then hopes some of them will show up. As city transit chief Doug Hausladen (pictured), Youth Services Director Jason Bartlett, and Mayor Toni Harp rolled in to the latest convening this past Wednesday evening, the conversation turned to a nearby concern: the dearth of streetlights on the I-91 underpass between Trumbull and Bradley Streets, which falls into complete darkness after dusk.
That underpass, along with six others just like it on State Street, has been a concern for over a year, said Hausladen. He sees it as a public safety hazard. Pedestrians and cyclists walking beneath it can’t see what’s happening around them, and cars barrel through. But the city’s Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking can’t do anything about it. I-91 is a state road, and updates or renovations are overseen by the state’s Department of Transportation. Hausladen has been making requests to them “for a year and a half” without result, he said.
Until Wednesday, that is. Welcoming Harp over platters of shrimp and avocado sushi and half-priced mixed drinks (Harp stuck to fizzy water), Ansley spoke about her concerns about underpass lighting as a concerned citizen and as a mom. Her son attends Hooker School in East Rock, and she sees how many of his peers walk under other I-91 underpasses to get to and from school in the morning. She, meanwhile, drives under the Trumbull-to-Bradley underpass on her way home from work each day, and doesn’t think it’s safe for the drivers or walkers who use it.
“It’s dark and dangerous,” she said.
Harp turned to squint at the underpass directly behind her. “We really should have lights under there,” she said, casting an eye toward Hausladen. “Is there an opportunity to light up that bridge?”
Hausladen had just gotten off the phone with Paul Holmes, who manages New Haven with the Connecticut Bureau of Highway Operations and Maintenance, for another transit issue. At the mayor’s urging, he pulled out his phone, and sent an email off to Holmes.
“I was with the mayor today at Dashi, and the staff complained about the lights under the bridge for Exit 3,” he wrote. “Can you prioritize the bridges over State Street lighting? The employees were mentioning that all the bridges from Hamden to Downtown are dark,” he wrote.
He added an image of the underpass in relation to Dashi.
Just a little over two hours later, Holmes had responded with news that a work order has been opened to get the job done.
Once lights have been added to the underpass, Bartlett said, he’ll try to find resources for youth to paint the underpass, a request that would require another work order. Having watched how the Humphrey street mural brightened that neighborhood — and helped tie together State Street and Jocelyn Square — he said it’s an exciting idea. And while “we [Youth Services] don’t have the capacity to lead this,” he’s totally on board.
“There’s a lot of kids who have real talent, and it really allows them to show it,” he said.
One of the reasons Hausladen is so keen to light the underpass is public safety, he said. But if an art project — like Bartlett’s loosely proposed youth mural, or another crowdfunded underpass campaign — were to follow, there’s no promise that it wouldn’t be vandalized. It may be reason enough to pause and think about how best to deter vandals, said Ansley. But it’s not reason enough not to try.
“We’ll reach for the stars, and we might get some of them, though maybe not the whole constellation,” she said, noting her own plans for a graffiti wall where I-91 heads into Cedar Hill.