“This is an emergency situation,” Carolyn Christmann (pictured) told an assembled group of politicians about the dangerous condition of her street. She and her neighbors said it’s being treated as anything but an emergency.
More than two dozen neighbors met as the Q River Group at the Waucoma Yacht Club to express their frustration and sometimes anger at the decade-long wait to get their main thoroughfare, Quinnipiac Avenue, redesigned to increase safety.
(Click here to read a previous in-depth story about the problems there.)
City transportation czar Mike Piscitelli opened the meeting by giving a status report on a number of projects, including Q Avenue. He said it’s “in the queue” to go out for bid in August 2009, providing the $5.65 million funding is in place.
But funding is not assured, so neighborhood activist (and Quinnipiac Avenue resident) Chris Ozyck (pictured) asked a few tough questions.
“I’ve been following this for a decade, ever since it’s been on COG’s radar,” he said. he was referring to the South Central Connecticut Regional Council of Governments, made up of the region’s mayors and first selectmen, who must prioritize construction projects throughout the 15 member towns. (Click here for a recent story about New Haven transportation projects.)
“I spoke to [city engineer] Dick Miller,” Ozyck continued, “and he said there’s not enough money to do this next year.” The project can’t be started until all the funding is in place. Ozyck said the cost to the state Department of Transportation of taking the 100 rights-of-way from property abutters required for the project has escalated. “When you go to people with an open checkbook and say, ‘We want to fix your property. How much can we pay you to do it?’ that is creating part of this problem, but it’s also putting in jeopardy this whole project. What is your perspective on that?
“We’ve been working on this for ten years,” he concluded. “I want to make sure that somehow, this problem is solved, and that there’s a timeline, and a firm commitment.”
Before leaving the meeting, Piscitelli couldn’t provide all the answers people wanted. But he repeatedly invited them to attend a meeting on Sept. 25 at 6:30 p.m. at Pilgrim Church when Mayor John DeStefano will discuss plans for Quinnipiac Avenue and the Grand Avenue bridge.
State Sen. Martin Looney (pictured) sympathized with the audience, but he pointed out one factor that may be delaying this project as well as others.
“DOT has, in effect, been hollowed out from within, and is in many ways not capable of doing the missions assigned to it, because it is down over a thousand engineers from what its peak strength was, when it had 4,300 employees.” Looney said much of the shrinking of the department was due to former Gov. John Rowland’s move to privatize many of the jobs in state government.
Lou Mangini (pictured), who handles transportation issues in Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro’s New Haven office, pointed to another funding problem. He said the federal Highway Trust Fund is billions of dollars in the hole because its money comes from taxes on gasoline, and gas consumption is down due to high prices. He said Congress recently allocated $1 billion, nationwide, to repair bridges. Someone pointed out that the Q Bridge project, currently under construction, is going to cost about $2 billion. (The war in Iraq costs $2 billion a week, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and totals more than half a trillion dollars to date.)
Another problem causing delays and adding cost to the project is that the Buckeye pipeline will have to be moved at taxpayer expense, since it’s considered a public utility. Jerry Dunklee (pictured to the left of Mangini in photo above) suggested DeLauro be asked to help. “[Buckeye] lives on the defense industry [transporting fuel to Westover Air Force Base]. They have a law that specifically protects them, makes them whole, in the context of any move. They need to give back a little. They’ve been on the public teat for all of their existence, and it’s time to give back a little bit to a community that needs some help now.”
Mangini responded that DeLauro’s office has had conversations often with companies that have federal business, and indicated this was an appropriate step to take with Buckeye. The company, which transports fuel and other liquids for many clients, did not return two calls seeking comment.
Update: Colleen Ford, manager of right of way and permits for Buckeye, wrote in an email message, “Buckeye recently received plans from CDOT and is still trying to assess how the work along Quinnipiac Avenue will affect Buckeye’s pipelines.” In an earlier conversation she said the company’s pipelines had to be moved when the DOT did some work on Forbes Avenue. “We are considered a public utility in Connecticut. We relocated solely at the request of the DOT, due to construction in the New Haven harbor, and the government paid for it. We didn’t move for our own benefit and make the taxpayer pay.”
The neighborhood’s two alders, Erin Sturgis-Pascale and Alex Rhodeen, tried to move the meeting forward to a few other items. Christmann wasn’t quite ready to let it go. “There’s more than one accident a week in that less than half-mile stretch,” she said, her frustration mounting. “There’s been vehicular deaths. I don’t think there’s been a pedestrian death yet, but it’s gonna happen. There are no curbs to keep the cars from hitting the people. This is an emergency situation.”