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New chief says he'll get
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer October 22, 2006
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BRIDGEPORT -- Promising he'll push the state Department of
Transportation to plan and finish projects more quickly, Ralph
Carpenter, the agency's newly appointed commissioner, talked about some
of his goals with transit planners and advocates in Fairfield County
In one of his first public addresses since being appointed DOT
commissioner in July, Carpenter, 54, said the agency and its partners
instead must now start working more efficiently during these "exciting
but challenging times" for the state's transportation system.
"We should not form committees to go down these long endless tunnels to
figure something out," Carpenter said during a Bridgeport meeting of the
Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, an advisory group to
the Transportation Strategy Board. "I can be commissioner for five years
and never see the end of it. É The length of some of these projects is
Known by many state politicians as a reformer during his year as
commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles, Carpenter, a
Canton resident, said he has already exhibited his philosophy when he
met last month with the Merritt Parkway Conservancy to talk about the
future of the Merritt-Route 7 interchange in Norwalk -- a project that
has been stalled for months.
The key to this approach is to be thick-skinned and open to criticism,
"I read every single complaint that comes into the agency," he said. "I
don't have to do that. But there are some larger issues out there where
we would never make a phone call to people, and sometimes that's all it
Carpenter said he will lean heavily on his staff, including his two new
deputy commissioners James Boice, former interim bureau chief in DOT's
rail bureau, and Raeanne Curtis, former chief of staff at the Department
of Public Works.
A third deputy commissioner --Êa new position created by the state --
will focus on mass transit and transit-oriented development.
The department has received 26 applications for the new position.
Carpenter couldn't say when someone would be hired but said, "this won't
languish. I want to get it off my deck."
Carpenter said he relishes his role as a public servant. Before heading
the DOT and DMV, Carpenter served the Department of Public Safety for 25
years in various roles.
His career may have been defined last year after a fatal truck accident
on Route 44 in Avon led to a statewide crackdown on motor carriers with
poor safety records, Carpenter said. Gov. M. Jodi Rell released lists of
trucking companies with bad safety records, and targeted them for
additional inspections. She also signed a bill toughening state laws
governing insurance coverage for trucking companies; it created a new
class D felony for the owner of a commercial vehicle who knowingly
operates without insurance.
Though the Rell administration has received some criticism from
Democrats for not going far enough with truck safety, Carpenter praised
the state's response. "I don't think I would be here today if I
failed in handling that," he said.
On the issue of truck safety, Carpenter said the image of trucks using
the state's highways to deliver goods is a sign of a productive economy,
but the DOT must also look at ways to take trucks off the roads --
possible barges or rail freight.
Asked what his single biggest priority is, Carpenter wouldn't name one,
instead opting to give his vision for long-term prosperity for the
state's transportation system.
"To ensure whatever projects we are chasing, that it is an integrated
project with surrounding towns and surrounding modes of transportation,
as opposed to doing things in a vacuum," Carpenter said.
TIA members said afterward that Carpenter presented himself well, even
if he lacks transportation experience.
"I thought he was refreshing," said Joseph McGee, vice president of
public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County. "He's not a
transportation policy expert, but he has strong management credentials.
He seems to be very open."
group meet to jump-start interchange
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer Norwalk Advocate
September 29, 2006
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For the first
time since a federal judge's ruling halted construction at the Merritt
Parkway-Route 7 interchange in Norwalk, state officials and parkway
preservationists met yesterday to discuss possible solutions so the
project can resume next year.
Officials from the state Department of Transportation and Merritt
Parkway Conservancy described the meeting as productive and amicable,
and they plan to get together again next month to discuss design
proposals for the site.
"The commissioner (Ralph Carpenter) thought hearing the concerns of the
conservancy was very enlightening," DOT spokesman Chris Cooper said. "It
was encouraging that all parties agreed that the project is a
Carpenter, newly appointed Deputy Commissioner James Boice and DOT's
chief engineer Art Gruhn represented the agency at the meeting, which
was ordered by Gov. M. Jodi Rell last month.
Conservancy executive director Laurie Heiss was optimistic after the
meeting, and said she was encouraged that DOT representatives are
willing to show "some flexibility for change," she said.
The conservancy, and other local and national preservation groups
blocked the state's interchange construction plans earlier this year
with a civil lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New Haven.
The two-phase, $98 million project would have connected the parkway to
Route 7 to and from the east in Norwalk. The first phase was supposed to
widen the parkway interchange at Main Avenue and the Glover Avenue
bridge. The second phase would construct cloverleaf ramps, fully
connecting the two roads.
The conservancy said the design violated federal preservation law
because it would destroy historic bridges and landscaping on the Merritt
and install tall lighting fixtures that would harm the parkway's
The Merritt Parkway is on the National Register of Historic Places, an
official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.
In April, a federal judge ruled the state and Federal Highway
Administration did not fully explore alternative construction plans
before agreeing on the contested design. He suggested both sides work
together before the DOT restarts the project next year, but there had
been no meeting until yesterday.
The DOT told the conservancy yesterday it would not be able to radically
change the design because it must abide by the "purpose and need"
statement that is attached to the project during the application for
This statement, which was not available yesterday, details features of
the project that can not be changed or federal funds would be lost,
Despite having no updated design in place, the state is optimistic that
construction can restart in Norwalk this April, he said.
The interchange has remained a priority for the DOT and was recently
included in the engineering and highway operations bureau's Top 10
initiatives presentation, given to the state Transportation Strategy
Route 7's saga of ups and downs a
Editorial, Norwalk Hour 9/29/06
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There's news on Route 7 these days --:- both the new, incomplete
one, and the old one that winds through Wilton. Surveyors are
marking out in Wilton where the old route will be widened and trees will
be marked for removal. The hope is that actual road construction will
begin by the end of the year.
The project is expected to cost $35 million, according to Department of
The widening project is expected to cause lane closures, not good news
to commuters who use the old highway. But, as they say; you have to
break an egg to make an omelet. The work is designed to lessen
congestion on the busy road and
has been hailed by some as a compromise to extending the Route 7
connector through Wilton and eventually on to Danbury.
As is the case with most compromises, it falls short of the mark. The
better alternative would have been to extend the connector, but that
probably will never happen, even though the state owns the right-of-way
from one end of the town to the other.
Meanwhile, Brookfield residents -who have dealt with congestion on the
old route through that town can take heart that the DOT is finally ready
to proceed on a bypass that will bring the traffic around the center of
town. Bids will be sought on the project, which began 30 years ago.
The two-mile stretch of highway will bypass Four Corners, connecting the
new Route 7 in Brookfield with the newly expanded Route 7 at the New
So, there are different types of progress on Route 7 one rehabilitating
the old road while another forges a segment of the long hoped-for
That brings us to another Route 7 topic - that part of it in Norwalk and
northward where utility work has left a decent road with a
less-than-desirable roadbed that jars commuters as they bounce their way
over the patchwork paving.
The original plan was that the road would be paved extensively,
restoring it to its original state.
Anyone who has driven the road can attest that the repairs fall far
short of the mark. What puzzles us is how DOT can just accede to
Connecticut Light & Power Co.'s position that the repaving isn't needed.
We put up with the inconvenience because we know the work was needed to
bring more electricity to this power-starved area. We did expect,
however, that the utility would live up to its word and properly restore
the road in Norwalk, a road that was only repaved a few years ago.
Rell pushes for
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer August 30, 2006
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Gov. M. Jodi Rell
directed the state Department of Transportation yesterday to meet with
Merritt Parkway preservationists to settle their dispute over the design
of the Route 7-Merritt interchange in Norwalk.
Rell is calling on her
new DOT commissioner and two deputy commissioners to come up with a
plan. The project has been stalled since last year, when the Merritt
Parkway Conservancy sued the federal government, saying the interchange
design would damage the parkway's historic character.
"This project has been
halted for far too many months," Rell said in a letter to DOT
Commissioner Ralph Carpenter, whom she appointed last month. "Those who
use and need this interchange have waited long enough."
A federal judge ruled
in favor of the conservancy earlier this year, forcing the DOT and the
Federal Highway Administration to develop a new design.
The plan for the
interchange, which would connect the parkway to Route 7 to and from the
east in Norwalk, was in development for more than 10 years and was
approved by all the proper state and environmental authorities, DOT
The Merritt Parkway is
on the National Register of Historic Places, an official list of
cultural resources deemed worthy of preservation. During the civil
trial, the plaintiffs, which included the conservancy, the National
Trust for Historic Preservation, other preservation groups and
landowners, sought an alternate plan that would not damage parkway
bridges and landscaping.
The groups filed suit
last year after appealing to the DOT and Rell during public hearings.
Since the DOT announced
it would develop a new design in time to start construction next spring,
no one at the agency has met with the conservancy, said Leigh Grant,
co-executive director of the group.
The group sent several
letters to the DOT and Rell asking to be included in design discussions,
Grant said. The conservancy remains in favor of finishing the
interchange, Grant said.
"We're very pleased to
have even this small crack in the door opened," she said.
DOT spokesman Kevin
Nursick said the agency looks at the directive in a similar way.
"We're viewing this
directive from the governor as an opportunity to move the project
forward," Nursick said in a statement.
If the discussion
becomes unproductive, the state will ask the court to expedite the case
so the project can progress, Rell said.
"The state is open to
design recommendations that support the goals of maximizing public
safety and traffic flow in a manner that is also sensitive to the
environment and the aesthetic and historical concerns in a project
involving this landmark parkway," she said.
Acknowledge the need for
April 16, 2006
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The decision this week to halt the Route 7/Merritt Parkway interchange
project is a big win for preservationists who feel it would violate the
highway's historic character.
But it won't be much of a win for anyone if the undertaking drags on
much longer. As it is, work has been stalled for months. State
Department of Transportation officials say they hope it can resume
around this time next year. But given the way this project has gone from
the start, that's probably wishful thinking.
The state this week scrapped its construction contract with a
Torrington-based firm after a judge ruled the DOT and the Federal
Highway Administration hadn't proved the plan would minimize the impact
to the parkway, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Preservationists last year sued in U.S. District Court in New Haven to
have the plan changed, contending it would wrongly damage four historic
bridges and landscaping. The state and federal agencies must now work to
come up with a new design.
Plaintiffs say they hope they will have a larger say in creating a new
plan than they have in the past. They believe it is possible to create a
satisfactory interchange while better protecting the highway's heritage.
The preservationists are right that the parkway must be protected. It is
a vital part of our state's distinctive character. And they are right
that development has to proceed carefully. Eyes that look to the future
must also look to the past.
But this is not a case of ripping down historic homes or buildings so a
developer can slap up condos or a strip mall. The Merritt has great
aesthetic value, but it also has an important utilitarian one, and it
has to be able to do its job. The interchange is needed to improve
traffic flow, which will improve safety and serve the region
There is a real danger here that the interchange project will go the way
of the efforts build a Super 7 highway from Norwalk to Danbury.
Opponents have been able to block that plan for decades while traffic
grips the region a little tighter every year.
The need for the Merrit/Route 7 interchange was identified more than 10
years ago. It certainly hasn't diminished since that time. Just as the
state and federal agencies have to show good faith and work with
conservationists in creating a new plan, conservationists need to
demonstrate they are willing to let the project go forward once a new
plan is achieved.
And they have to realize that the project will include changes. There is
no way to keep the roadway just like it was envisioned when ground was
broken in 1934. The mere force of population has seen to that. What
could be further from the road's original character than have it burst
at the seams with long lines of cars?
Sometimes the best way to allow something to retain its character is to
allow it to grow. The trick is finding the balance. That's rarely easy,
but both sides in this case have to show they are committed to it. And
they have to do it quickly.
Merritt Parkway work is stopped: Redesign planned for interchange
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer April 11, 2006
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The state Department of Transportation has agreed to rethink
construction plans for the Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange in
Norwalk, delaying the project indefinitely and handing a victory to
preservationists who said the work would ruin the parkway's historical
The agency terminated its contract with O&G Industries Inc. of
Torrington for the $98 million project that would have connected the
parkway to Route 7, DOT officials told a federal judge yesterday,
according to court papers filed in U.S. District Court in New Haven.
Last week, the judge ruled that the Federal Highway Administration and
the state did not provide sufficient evidence that they explored all
options for minimizing harm to the parkway in building the interchange
and the DOT decided it would be wasting taxpayers' money if it continued
to pay the contractor, officials said.
The DOT "made this decision because the delays the contractor has
experienced to date and may experience due to the severe restrictions
placed upon the contractor's construction activities would expose the
(DOT) and the state taxpayers to delay damage claims of approximately 5
million to 10 million dollars," according to court documents.
The state's original plan was challenged last year in U.S. District
Court in New Haven by parkway preservationists who claimed construction
would violate federal law by irreversibly damaging the historical
character of the parkway, including four historic bridges and
The Merritt Parkway is on the National Register of Historic Places, an
official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. The
plaintiffs, which included the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, the National
Trust for Historic Preservation and other preservation groups and
landowners, sought an alternate construction plan.
The groups filed suit last year after appealing to the DOT and Gov. M.
Jodi Rell during public hearings.
Conservancy officials said yesterday they hope the state's decision to
terminate the contract will give preservationists a chance to weigh in
on the plan.
The state and Federal Highway Administration will work together to
design an interchange that complies with federal preservation law, court
"Hopefully, this will result in a project that is good for commuters and
respectful of the Merritt," said Laurie Heiss, executive director of the
conservancy. "We would love to be a part of the process and will be
happily standing by."
Conservancy Co-chairman Peter Malkin of Greenwich said "we tried our
best to persuade (the DOT) that an efficient interchange could be
achieved without the design they had been contemplating."
With construction stopped indefinitely, conservancy members want the
state to restore some of the landscaping that was destroyed during early
stages of construction, Malkin said.
DOT officials said their goal is to start construction as early as
possible, perhaps after next year's construction season begins in April.
Last summer, DOT voluntary stopped construction on the interchange until
a judge ruled on the civil case.
The state's plan has been under development for more than a decade.
During court proceedings, DOT officials said the designs were approved
by other state and environmental agencies, and public hearings were held
in 1998 and 1999.
Rte 7 Blame Game:
Letters to the Editor
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Published February 17 2006 - Norwalk Advocate
Selectman William Brennan's position on widening Rte. 7 strikes me as
yet another attempt by Town Hall politicians to demonize the Department
of Transportation and blame it for the coming four years of snarled Rte.
7 traffic as three miles of the highway are widened from two to four
Brennan's attempt to deflect responsibility from Town Hall to the DOT
for what promises to be an epic traffic bottleneck through 2009 is pure
politics. There would be no real need to widen Rte. 7 through the heart
of Wilton if Super 7 had been built as planned 30 years ago, when the
right-of-way was acquired.
But as was pointed out on the front page of The Advocate last week,
Wilton politicians have been "the primary opponents of the highway since
it was conceptualized more than 50 year ago."
Indeed, Brennan, like his Republican predecessors, still considers Super
7 as a "threat," although a threat to what is never spelled out. Is a
good highway system that enables residents to expeditiously get from A
to B a threat? Does it reduce property values or enhance them? Who
benefits from forcing both local and through traffic to use an
antiquated highway that it appears will soon rival Rte. 1 in Norwalk in
terms of commercial sprawl?
The Rte. 7 mess was ordained at Wilton Town Hall, not in Hartford. But I
am sure Mr. Brennan will continue to pass the buck and complain
vehemently about DOT foot dragging to distract the public from the real
causes of the Rte. 7 fiasco.
And when the widening is finally finished, what will we have? A road
that from Olmstead Hill Road north to Rte. 35 in Ridgefield will still
be only two lanes! What do you think happens when you force four lanes
of traffic down to two?
The famous comic strip philosopher, Walt Kelly's Pogo Possum, hit the
nail on the head when he opined that, "We have met the enemy, and he is
Richard E. Elsberry
Not Opting Out:
Letters to the Editor
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Published February 15 2006 - Norwalk Advocate
assertion that the South Western Regional Planning Agency decided "to
opt out of the Super 7 debate" by not endorsing that project in our
Regional Plan of Conservation and Development, 2006-2015 is illustrative
of the fact that The Advocate, among others, has a very limited
understanding of the transportation planning process (editorial, Feb.
Plans of conservation and development like that which SWRPA's board
adopted have essentially nothing to do with setting transportation
priorities and even less to do with allocating funding for them. As
prescribed by federal regulations, those responsibilities rest with
SWRPA's sister organization, the South Western Region Metropolitan
Planning Organization, whose voting members are the region's eight
mayors and first selectmen and representatives of its three transit
The official transportation priorities for the region are contained in
the South Western Region Long-Range Transportation Plan, 2004-2030,
which was adopted unanimously by the MPO in October 2004. It was my
recommendation early on in the process of developing SWRPA's regional
plan to defer to the MPO's transportation plan and not develop a
parallel set of transportation priorities or cherry-pick recommendations
out of that plan. Our board made the correct decision in this matter and
focused its attention instead on issues such as land use, housing and
natural resources, which are not seriously addressed in long-range
The appropriate time to lobby for or against Super 7 -- or any other
project -- will be when the MPO begins its update of the current
long-range plan, which will likely be later this year.
Robert H. Wilson
The writer is executive director of the South Western Regional
Lawmaker is right to
champion Super 7
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Editorial, The Norwalk Advocate. Published February 7, 2006
The South Western Regional Planning Agency's recent decision to opt
out of the Super 7 debate illustrates that many wish the 50-year-old
fight would just go away. That is why Bob Duff should be commended. The
Democratic state senator from Norwalk has refused to let that happen.
Instead, Mr. Duff has been a persistent and vocal supporter of the plan,
which would create a multi-lane expressway from Norwalk to Danbury and
link interstates 95 and 84.
Calling the current Route 7 a safety hazard that functions well past
capacity, the senator says the state will be guilty of neglect if it
does not step up and build the new road. He also argues that the route
hurts business because employees from outside the region have a hard
time getting to work. The area around where Interstate 84 connects with
Route 7 is one of the fastest growing in the state, and many of the
people who are moving up there work in Norwalk, Stamford and Greenwich.
The fact that this debate dates back to the 1950s certainly supports Mr.
Duff's contention that use has long outpaced the road's intended
purpose. But it also underscores how difficult his fight can be.
Starting a boulder rolling that has been sitting in place for half a
century is not easy to do.
First among opponents has been the town of Wilton, which maintains that
building a larger roadway would only bring more traffic. The project is
also opposed by groups who say it would hurt the environment and those
who say it would be too expensive.
The latest salvos were exchanged after Mr. Duff called for the project
to be endorsed in SWRPA's Fourth Plan of Conservation and Development, a
10-year land-use and development strategy for the region.
"We're just going to have to drown him out and remind him of the damage
this road would cause for our community," said Wilton First Selectman
Bill Brennan. "It's only going to create more traffic ... and there is
no money to build it."
Mr. Duff says opponents comprise a vocal minority that takes too narrow
a view. "There needs to be more of a concerted effort to do what's right
for the region and not cave in to one or two communities," he says.
Mr. Duff is right. Route 7 is one of many roads in our area, including
Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway, that are often clogged to the
point of being unbearable. Sitting still in a car as the clock ticks
away and blood pressure rises is an experience all-to-familiar to
everyone who drives here. But this issue is not a simple one. Both sides
make valid points.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell has supported widening parts of Route 7, and says "I
want to make sure there is no place in Connecticut you can't get to."
But she will not back Super 7 while there is what she calls "strong
"If you just sit and wait for all people to get on base, then nothing
will ever happen anywhere," says Mr. Duff, who has acknowledged that
this is a difficult issue for some, including members of the SWRPA
"I just want to make sure that Super 7 plans are not being swept under
the rug or completely ignored," he says.
It appears that as long as he's around, that will not be the case.
SWRPA takes the
middle lane on Route 7 plan
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By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer, Norwalk Advocate
Published January 28, 2006
The controversial Super 7 expressway will likely not be part of a
regional development and conservation plan, despite mounting pressure
from supporters to include it.
Robert Wilson, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning
Agency, said Super 7 would be referred to as an "unfunded need" for the
state, and it would not be actively endorsed or denounced when the
agency votes on its Fourth Plan of Conservation and Development next
The middle-ground stance is consistent with the Metropolitan Planning
Organization's long-range transportation plan, Wilson said, which is
drawn up by the region's eight municipal leaders.
"I know the opponents of (Super 7) will probably not be too happy, but
the proponents won't be either," Wilson said of the agency's decision.
SWRPA reviewed the final draft of its plan last week and expects to vote
on it Friday, Wilson added. The plan looks to control sprawl by focusing
development in areas with the infrastructure to handle it.
The decade-long fight about Super 7, a proposed super-highway connecting
Norwalk to Danbury and Interstate 84, came to a head again late last
year when Norwalk officials advocated inserting pro-Super 7 language in
the SWRPA plan.
The proposal angered Wilton officials, who have been the primary
opponents of the highway since it was conceptualized more than 50 years
The SWRPA board delayed its vote on the plan to give elected officials
more time to review the draft and make suggestions.
During that time, some Norwalk legislators continued to push for an
outright Super 7 endorsement. Wilton officials said the expressway plan
should be taken off the table because it lacks funding, has not received
Gov. M. Jodi Rell's support and will likely never be completed.
After learning of SWRPA's decision, state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said
he understood the agency's compromise but was disappointed that there
wasn't more of a push for Super 7.
"It would have been a bigger disappointment if Super 7 was taken off the
table completely," Duff said. "There needs to be more of a concerted
effort to do what's right for the region and not cave in to one or two
Duff said transportation between Norwalk and Danbury must improve to
accommodate the increasing economic development and population in the
Route 7 corridor.
Wilton First Selectman Bill Brennan said he and other opponents will
continue to fight off the calls to build Super 7.
"It's clear there wasn't a consensus to put it in this plan," Brennan
said. "It doesn't belong in the conservation plan, and it doesn't even
belong in the long-range plan."
As of last week, Brennan said he was unsure whether Wilton's
representatives to SWRPA would be advised to support or reject the
Norwalk - Wilton, CT