Local leaders seek solutions to Route 1 traffic during repaving project

A state plan to repave the Post Road in Darien has local officials at odds as they seek opportunities to improve traffic conditions along Route 1.

Members of the Board of Selectmen were optimistic that recommended improvements from a prior study of the road could be implemented alongside the repaving project. Published in October 2012, The South Western Regional Planning Agency’s Route 1 Corridor Study made nearly two dozen suggestions to improve conditions in the area between Nearwater Lane and Old Kings Highway North, ranging from new turning lanes and parking changes to new medians and sidewalks for pedestrians.

However, the Darien Police Commission, which also serves as the town’s traffic authority, voted not to implement the study’s recommendations based on the findings of a recent peer review. With the state expected to start prepping the road for the repaving project in the coming weeks, local officials on both the Board of Selectmen and Police Commission don’t want to miss the opportunity for state support, but are struggling to find ways to hold the Department of Transportation responsible for improvements.

Because U.S. 1 is a state road the Department of Transportation must approve all changes to traffic signals and lanes. Unfortunately if Darien wishes to pursue major changes to the roadway’s structure local taxpayers will likely have to foot the bill, given the state’s current financial woes. Furthermore, if town officials attempt to delay the repaving, there is a chance the state could take years to return to the project.

The peer review was conducted by Frederick P. Clark Associates, Inc. and presented to the Police Commission by Michael Galante, who has reviewed numerous projects for the town. Galante noted that the Route 1 Corridor Study did not include morning car counts, which are essential in determining peak traffic. Galante said that changing the Post Road to a single lane road with left turning lanes as recommended by one of the study’s models could actually exacerbate traffic at certain intersections, creating bottlenecks.

While he said eliminating lanes on the road would not be safe from a traffic standpoint, Galante recommended that traffic signals along the road be adjusted to help alleviate some of the problems. He also said that improvements should be made the pedestrian crosswalks and walkways. Several Darien residents living along the Post Road attended the Police Commission meeting to express their desire for better traffic control and pedestrian safety, asking for the same types of changes recommended by Galante.

Based on Galante’s recommendation, the Police Commission voted unanimously not to follow the Route 1 Corridor Study’s proposed changes. The commission also asked that Captain Donald Anderson discuss the possibility for other improvements as the repaving project begins, and asked that the Board of Selectmen form a committee to help determine the town’s priorities in revising the Post Road’s traffic patterns.

On Monday, the Board of Selectmen expressed disappointment that the Police Commission had opted to move away from the SWRPA, Southwestern Regional Planning Agency, study so quickly. Selectman Susan Marks was in attendance at the Police Commission’s Aug. 23 meeting and acknowledged the frustration of neighbors who wanted to see more safety measures along the road. Still, town officials have been left with few options with the project due to start so soon.

“I don’t want them to just pave the road when we know we need something,” Selectman Rob Richards said during Monday’s meeting.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson echoed concerns about pedestrian safety along the Post Road and other increasingly busy areas of town. While considering the site plan for the Post Road’s Shake Shack the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission had focused on the lack of pedestrian infrastructure near the restaurant and the dangers of customers walking across the street to and from the library. Stevenson pointed out that despite their concerns, Planning & Zoning has little league ground to protect pedestrians.

“I’m hoping that between the Planning & Zoning Commission and the local traffic authority [the Police Commission], they will understand that we have to be planning in pedestrian amenities when they approve these developments, it’s too difficult to go back after the fact and try and get it done,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson also expressed frustrations with the state specifically, as the Department of Transportation should be responsible for improving conditions along state roads like U.S. 1. Instead, the town and other regional planning agencies have had to take the lead with commissioning their own traffic studies and may be required to pay for state-approved improvements to the Post Road in the future.

“They have the opportunity and in my mind the responsibility to restripe that roadway,” Stevenson said. “They should be a partner at the table asking us for input.”

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