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Hoyt sidewalks rank fourth on Darien’s priority list

Kristen Riolo

The prospect of sidewalks on Hoyt Street appears even farther off now that the town’s public works department issued a report placing it fourth on the list of top sidewalk project priorities.

Despite strong outcry from some residents of Hoyt Street for a sidewalk connecting to the New Canaan town line, a points system developed by the Department of Public Works at the Board of Selectmen’s direction places the Hoyt project, which is also the most expensive at an estimated cost of $640,000, behind three other projects — the top priority being a sidewalk at Leroy Avenue and Middlesex Road, which is estimated to cost $120,000.

The second most important sidewalk, according to the department’s system, is Tokeneke Road near Old King’s Highway South ($75,000), and the third priority project is Mansfield Avenue at Overbrook Lane to Mansfield Place ($75,000).

Based on an earlier decision by the selectmen, Bob Steeger, director of public works, told selectmen at its Monday, Jan. 14 meeting, that his department came up with a points system that evaluates projects based on safety, connectivity and construction.

Within each category are a number of details that highlight various project considerations, such as the busyness of a road, the intensity of foot traffic, public demand, and whether there is already an existing sidewalk.

A total of seven projects were proposed — No. 5 on the priority list was determined to be West Avenue near Leroy Avenue ($75,000); No. 6 was Edgerton Street to West Avenue ($36,000); and No. 7 was Mansfield Avenue at McLaren Road to Royle Road ($37,500). These cost estimates do not include money for land purchases.

“It would be nice if there were easy things to measure here,” Steeger said, adding that it’s not prudent to compare projects by cost, because some projects are larger in scope and scale.

“We have included a placeholder in the capital budget request for new sidewalks,” Steeger continued. “It’s just a question of which project goes in there.”

Selectman David Bayne expressed concern that the Hoyt sidewalks should have been given higher priority because of the public demand. The selectmen commissioned an $8,500 land survey for sidewalks at Hoyt in 2011, and a residential survey was also sent to homeowners in that area, an element that other sidewalk projects have not been afforded, said Jayme Stevenson, first selectman.

Jeremy Ginsberg, director of planning and zoning, reported in 2011 that 42 of 55 respondents living near Hoyt Street and the Talmadge Hill train station in New Canaan said they favored sidewalks.

Stevenson said public demand for sidewalks at Leroy and Middlesex has also been high, although residents of that area have gone about expressing their need through contacting police rather than coming to the board of selectmen like the Hoyt proponents.

“They have chosen the traffic safety commission route” through the Darien Police, Stevenson said.

Bayne said there was little explanation as to why the public works department came to the conclusions it did with the priority rating system. Steeger admitted there was an element of subjectivity that cannot be avoided.

“We don’t have hard data to back it up,” Steeger said.

The top priority for all sidewalk projects, as established by the selectmen, is to ensure it promotes and enhances public safety for both pedestrians and motorists. For pedestrian traffic, the Hoyt Street project ranked below Leroy/Middlesex, Mansfield/Overbrook to Mansfield Place, and Mansfield/McLaren to Royle Road.

Hoyt also ranked below the top two projects for connectivity, although it was tied with Leroy/Middlesex for most public demand. Hoyt was next to last in terms of construction considerations, with zero available right-of-way, poor terrain and a number of obstructions, according to public works.

Because Hoyt Street is a state road, any sidewalks, crosswalks or traffic slowing methods need to be coordinated with the state Department of Transportation.

Though many neighbors vocally support the sidewalk, there is another group of Hoyt Street residents who oppose it.

The total cost of sidewalks on Hoyt would be about $1 million, with New Canaan footing about $360,000. Stevenson has said that since New Canaan has called sidewalks on their side of the road a “non-starter” she is reluctant to build a sidewalk to nowhere.

Selectmen did not vote on the priority list, but expect it to be a flowing document that could change.

ddesroches@darientimes.com

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