2008 NEWS

Articles (including letters to editor) - pro and con are listed below. 

Reviving Route 7 plan far from 'shovel ready' 12/23/8
Route 7 study sparks debate on use of funds 11/2/8
Merritt/Route 7 exit redesign will be delayed  6/26/8
Wider Route 7 expected to open by end of year 4/6/8
DOT to update Wilton on Route 7 widening 4/3/8
Route 7 dispute settled 3/18/8
DOT to detail new plans for Route 7-Merritt project 3/18/8
State will unveil plans for Route 7 interchange 2/15/8
Rell hopes hearing accelerates Merritt-Rt. 7 project 1/4/8

2008 news        2007 news       2006 news         2005 news         before 2005

Reviving Route 7 plan far from 'shovel ready'    12/23/08
Editorial, Norwalk Hour                   
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There has been no greater supporter of completing the new Route 7 than this newspaper.  We have called for just that over the years as the project ran into stumbling block after stumbling block, mostly generated in Wilton. 

Sen. Robert Duff, (D-25) wants Gov. M. Jodi Rell to include completion of the route among the many projects the state will submit to Washington as  a part of the economic stimulus package aimed at repairing the nation's infrastructure. 

While we'd like to see that happen, don't count on it.  The need for a better highway than the patched-up old Route 7 is quite evident, but the project has lain dormant for too many years. 

Those plans are gathering dust in some stateroom up at the Department of Transportation.  Much of the planning done years ago is outdated.

The call is for "shovel ready" projects, ones on the drawing board and ready to go on short notice.  Sadly, extension of Route 7 isn't one of them. 

SEN. DUFF TO GOVERNOR RELL: INCLUDE SUPER 7 ON RECOMMENDATIONS TO FEDS   12/15/08                                              top of page
Urges inclusion of long-stalled expressway on stimulus package

Norwalk – State Senator Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) today urged Governor M. Jodi Rell to include the construction of the “Super 7” Expressway in her recommendations of infrastructure improvement projects to the federal government.

“If we’re to wisely improve our state’s economic standing then we must work to reduce our highway congestion problems,” said Senator Duff, who serves as vice chair of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee. “ Fairfield County is one of the main economic drivers in the state of Connecticut ; and we cannot expect businesses to take a solid interest in our area if one of our primary roadways is clogged, dangerous and inhospitable.”

Senator Duff said that the approximately 1,000 acres of right-of-way land that the state currently owns could be fast-tracked for construction if included as part of a federal plan for investment in infrastructure development.

Senator Duff continued, “The use of Route 7 has long outpaced its original purpose and design, and the federal government’s interest gives us a golden opportunity to finally get this project off the ground. Route 7 has the potential to be the most direct and safe route between upper and lower Fairfield County . Small improvements are counterproductive; our economic viability depends on this roadway’s completion.”

For nearly five decades, state and regional officials have planned an expressway to replace the existing US 7 between Norwalk and Danbury . In 1955, the Connecticut Highway Department began planning improvements to US 7 in this corridor.

Two years later, the state announced that the existing US 7 would be expanded from two to four lanes between Norwalk and Danbury , and estimated that the project would be completed by 1962. Except for several stretches, the existing road was never widened.

Route 7 study sparks debate on use of funds
By Brian Lockhart, Staff Writer  Norwalk Advocate
November 2, 2008                                               
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Brian Lockhart can be reached at brian.lockhart@scni.com or at 750-5352.

The state budget office has been asked to release $10,000 to fund a University of Connecticut-Stamford survey to "understand residents' opinions" about completing the Super 7 expressway between Norwalk and Danbury.  Senate President Donald Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, promised the money to state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, a year ago after Duff failed to revive the long-dormant project as part of a state bond bill.

The four-to-six lane highway was proposed five decades ago but fell to opposition from rural towns and environmentalists.  The state, instead, is widening the existing Route 7, although Duff, a vice chairman of the legislature's transportation committee, has continually argued that is a mistake, and Super 7 needs to be revived.

Derek Slap, a spokesman for Williams, said the study is important for residents of the region concerned about transportation needs.  But not all area lawmakers agree with Duff, and it is doubtful the results of Tuesday's elections will lessen opposition.  State Rep. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who is seeking to replace the retiring state Sen. Judith Freedman, R-Westport, has been, like Freedman, a staunch foe of Super 7. And Boucher's opponent, Democrat John Hartwell, said he also opposes the project, calling it a "terrible idea."

Meanwhile, Duff's Republican opponent, Steven Papadakos, during a recent debate said Super 7 would be good for the local economy but he was concerned about the environmental issues and possible cost.  Christopher Cooper, spokesman for Gov. M. Jodi Rell, said the study exemplifies how the state's contingency fund would be put to better use by cutting the deficit.

"I think the bottom line is . . . there's too much opposition to this highway to ever see it move forward," Cooper said.  Asked whether it was prudent to go ahead with the Super 7 study despite the state deficit, Duff said: "It's a much better use of dollars than the millions being wasted on the expansion of the regular Route 7."

When Rell, a Republican, was seeking budget cuts to help reduce the state's deficit, she decided to include her $2 million share of a $6 million "contingency fund" that is shared equally with Senate President Williams and House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford.  The sometimes controversial fund is money the governor and legislative leaders can spend with little oversight. Typically, it is released in the form of small grants to municipalities or organizations.

"As part of her deficit mitigation plan the governor turned all of her money back in," Cooper said. "She did not use a dime of it."  The same cannot be said for Williams and Amann, who since the start of the fiscal year July 1 have gradually spent the remaining $4 million on about 80 recipients, including the Bethany Volunteer Fire Department, the Marlborough Soccer Club, the Trumbull Board of Education and the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry.

Williams, according to the state budget office, has $923,050 left; Amann is down to $326,500.  And the two have no intention of turning in the balance.  Jeffrey Beckham, a budget office spokesman, said he has about 75 pending requests for the contingency funds.

The money is typically negotiated as part of the state's two-year budget.  The current budget, passed last year, set aside a total of $12 million for Rell and Democratic leaders - $6 million split three ways in the 2008 fiscal year and $6 million split three ways in the current, 2009 fiscal year.

"In fiscal year 2008, they all spent their full pots," Beckham said.  Critics refer to the contingency as a "slush fund" that Rell can use to help pay for Republican lawmakers' pet projects and that Williams and Amann can use to shower dollars on Democratic districts.

Although the budget office requires written requests explaining how the funds will be used, Beckham said the oversight begins and ends there.  "We just cut the check," Beckham said. "There's no discretion on our part. Whatever they ask for, we just process it. It's a gentleman's agreement between the governor and leaders."

Cooper said Rell has not specifically asked Democrats to follow her example and give up their contingency money to the cause of cutting the deficit.  "But certainly in this economy, at least for the governor, it was a much higher priority to try to save that money than to spend it on a pet project," Cooper said.

Amann and Slap defended the Democrats' decision not to turn the money over.  Amann said he, too, is serious about keeping the state's finances in order. But he noted the money was set aside before there was a deficit, and he has a "mile long" list of takers, many of whom have already promised grants to constituents.  Listen, that's good for her. She didn't want to make commitments," Amann said. "But after these things have already been announced and committed, you can't pull that money."

Slap said Rell was hurting the constituents of Republican lawmakers by denying them contingency funds.  "It's really important to have these emergency resources, especially in these difficult times," Slap said, reading off a brief list of local recipients from this year that included Cranbury Park in Norwalk and the Darien library.

"You call them, and they'll say, 'These funds are absolutely critical,' " Slap said, arguing that without the grants, such needs would have to be funded through property taxes.  But the value of the requests is not always clear cut, as the differences in opinions about spending $10,000 on Duff's Super 7 study illustrate.

Merritt/Route 7 exit redesign will be delayed   
By Chris Gosier, Staff Writer, Stamford Advocate  
26, 2008            
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NORWALK - Redesigning the congested Route 7/Merritt Parkway interchange will take longer than projected because the state needs a new blueprint for the project.  Starting construction in 2012 is no longer realistic because the state Department of Transportation must find an alternative to the cloverleaf design that has sparked strong opposition from interchange neighbors, said Tom Harley, the DOT's manager of consultant design.

That start date was predicated on moving ahead with the cloverleaf, he said. "I don't know if that is a valid time frame anymore if we're going back and trying to find a different alternative," Harley said; he couldn't say how much longer the project would take.

Silvermine residents say the cloverleaf design's looping ramps would bring traffic noise and pollution too close to their homes, while also impinging too much on wetlands.  Residents say they were not informed when the state worked up the cloverleaf design in consultation with the Merritt Parkway Conservancy.

The conservancy had sued in federal court to stop an earlier interchange design, arguing it would mar the parkway's historic character.   Silvermine residents, along with representatives of DOT, the conservancy and other groups, met yesterday at Norwalk City Hall to kick off a series of meetings about a new interchange concept.

Richard Armstrong, DOT's principal engineer for the project, began the meeting by saying "consensus is the goal," although the department is prepared to make decisions about the project if unanimity can't be reached.  "You need to educate us. We need to learn from you," he told the group of 20 stakeholders and others in the audience. "Your priorities need to become our priorities."

Debra LeFosse, who lives near the interchange on Valley Road, said disruption will come no matter which design the DOT ends up with.   She related the dirt, noise and disruption that has already come from development in the area.  "Your life is going to change. It will not be the same," LeFosse said. "Norwalk is just not going to be Norwalk anymore for those of us who live around there."

Harley said it's hard to say how much longer the project will take because it depends on how long it takes the group to agree on a new design.   Construction will take three to five years, he said.   In coming up with a new plan, Harley said the DOT can draw on about 20 redesign options it had considered.

"In the absence of coming up with something new . . . there's plenty more that we moved beyond or discarded for one reason or another," he said.   Armstrong said the stakeholders' group will revisit each one to see why it wasn't chosen.

The cloverleaf was presented as the favored option of three possibilities at a public hearing in March. But more hearings ensued after protests from interchange neighbors, some of whom were concerned about the safety of the cloverleaf design.

"We thought we understood the important issues that we needed to blend in our design," Armstrong said. "We got it wrong. We know that now."   The state has spent more than a decade pursuing a redesign that would complete the interchange and ease traffic jams. Route 7 drivers cannot access the northbound Merritt, and southbound Merritt drivers cannot directly enter Route 7, so they have to exit at Main Avenue, which causes traffic backups.

 Wider Route 7 expected to open by end of year
Chris Gosier, Norwalk Advocate    April 6, 2008            
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The widening of Route 7 in Wilton is proceeding on schedule, and drivers will find newly opened sections of four-lane road by the end of the year, a Department of Transportation official said.

The capacity of a 3-mile section of Route 7 is being doubled by expanding the road to two lanes in each direction. DOT and town officials updated about two dozen residents on the progress at a public meeting Thursday.

The project is still on target to be completed by April 2010, and possibly sooner, said Brian Mercure, the supervising engineer for the DOT.  "I think we are very well under way," he said.

The work began in September 2006 after discussions about how to create more capacity on Route 7, a major north-south state highway in Fairfield County.   Construction crews are working separately on various road segments. Half of the northern segment of the project - from the Wilton train station access road to Olmstead Hill Road - should be open to drivers by the end of the year, Mercure said.

Crews will open some portions of the project's middle segment by year's end as well, he said. That section runs from the access road to town hall.   Road work that has constricted the lanes on the Route 7 bridge over the Norwalk River will be finished by this summer, he said. A separate span making it a four-lane bridge should be completed by the end of summer 2009, he said.

Widening work on the southern segment of the road - from town hall to Wolfpit Road - has to wait for relocation of Northeast Utilities lines. Legal issues about the relocation of a telephone pole also have to be resolved.

Utilities work has added $2 million to the project's $35 million cost, he said, with about half the extra cost expected to be absorbed by NU. The contractor is Tilcon Connecticut, based in New Britain.  The project also involves drainage work, rock blasting and landscaping, and the addition of sidewalks. Homes and businesses briefly have had water turned off because of the construction.

"It's a very complicated project, but all in all going along pretty well," Wilton First Selectman William Brennan said. The DOT's project manager has done a good job of informing the town about what's being done, he said.   "To date, the project is going along smoothly," Brennan said. "That is not to say that there hasn't been some interruptions or some inconvenience, but DOT's been doing a very good job."

The project has made it more difficult to negotiate Route 7 and patronize businesses along the route, local business owners have said, with some expressing concern about the lack of a median barrier when the road is complete.

DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said widening the road for a median barrier would require taking more property - an additional seven to 10 feet - on either side of the road, while limiting access to businesses along the corridor.

"It's the yellow line that separates us on standard roads as it is," he said. But he noted that most of those roads only have one lane in each direction.

DOT to update Wilton on Route 7 widening        By Chris Gosier, Staff Writer
April 3, 2008, Norwalk                   
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WILTON - The public tonight will get an update on a project that has torn up miles of road on Route 7.  The road is being widened from two to four lanes along a 3-mile stretch from Wolfpit Road to Olmstead Hill Road. The $35 million project, begun in fall 2006, is the culmination of a 50-year effort to add capacity to Fairfield County's primary north-south travel route. Construction is to be completed in 2010.

State Department of Transportation and Wilton officials will hold a public information meeting - the third so far - at 7:30 p.m. today at Cider Mill School on School Road.  The project has hurt businesses along Route 7, with some customers reluctant to shop amid construction.

"A lot of people will call me up and find out what traffic is like before coming down to the store," said Rudy Bratz, manager at NAPA Auto Parts on Route 7.

But Bratz said his shop gained some customers because the construction slowed them enough to notice it.   Jim and Cathy Hagan, co-owners of Horizon Glass Co., also have seen customers deterred by the work.

"People say they don't want to deal with the construction," Cathy Hagan said. Both acknowledged that the DOT faces a tough task in renovating such a busy road.

"They're sort of battling all of us, too," Cathy Hagan said. Jim Hagan, her husband, worried that a lack of barriers down the middle of the new road will allow more head-on collisions, because a wider road will prompt people to drive faster.

DOT officials were unavailable for comment yesterday.  At the Wilton Sport Shop on Route 7, "business has definitely slowed down" because of the construction, sales clerk Vicki Ferrara said. A "business entrance" sign has been posted outside the store's driveway because the entrance could be obscured by construction work, she said.

The road is lined with white-and-orange construction pylons, concrete barriers and embankments of rubble. "Business entrance" signs are posted everywhere along the road.

Stephanie Barksdale, executive director of the Wilton Chamber of Commerce, said she's received no complaints that the construction is limiting business.  The DOT has moved briskly, leaving behind some nice-looking sections of Route 7, she said.  "I think everybody's pleased that it has moved along as rapidly as it has moved," she said. "The reality is that people are so used to Route 7 being so bad anyway."

Route 7 dispute settled       By Chris Gosier, Staff Writer
March 17, 2008      Norwalk Advocate    
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The state and the Merritt Parkway Conservancy have reached an agreement in their long-running dispute over how to redesign a busy interchange in Norwalk.

The state Department of Transportation has settled on a "cloverleaf" design for the interchange of Route 7 and the Merritt Parkway, the plan favored by the conservancy.

The conservancy, in turn, has accepted state proposals to replace the historic bridge over Main Avenue near the interchange, as long as its character is maintained.  Those are the elements of one proposal that will be aired at a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Norwalk City Hall, preceded by a one-hour open house.

Five proposals for rebuilding the interchange will be offered. The DOT will present the cloverleaf design as the preferred option but will get public input before deciding, said Thomas Harley, manager of consultant design with DOT.

It has been about two years since a federal judge blocked the DOT's plans after a lawsuit by the conservancy. Since then, the two sides have been meeting, with Gov. M. Jodi Rell urging them to reach an agreement.

"This really is a collaborative effort," Harley said. "Both sides have conceded issues in this process. We are going to this meeting with an alternative that both parties can feel comfortable with."

More than 10 years ago, the state proposed reconfiguring the congestion-prone interchange. The DOT is trying to finish the interchange so it's accessible to traffic from all directions, Harley said. The redesign will let Route 7 traffic travel north on the Merritt Parkway, and drivers heading south on the Merritt will be able to exit at Route 7.

The state also wants to replace the Main Avenue Bridge to expand Main Avenue from two lanes to six lanes. The conservancy agreed to that because of assurances from state officials that they will replicate the bridge's stone construction and historic character.

"We really want to see historic character of the parkway be maintained," said Jill Smyth, director of the conservancy.

The state backed off its earlier proposal to build elevated on- and off-ramps that would loom 20 feet to 30 feet above the Merritt, although that option will be displayed tomorrow night, Harley said.

Another option is to bring the ramps down to the level of the Merritt Parkway, but they still would be imposing, Harley said.  "As you drive along the highway, you'll have more ramp on either side of you," he said.

The cloverleaf - named for its appearance from above - has one lane northbound and southbound where drivers merge on and off the parkway. The DOT generally tries to steer clear of cloverleafs because the interweaving traffic makes them harder to manage, Harley said.

Construction would not start for about four years, after permitting and environmental studies are complete, Harley said.

DOT to detail new plans for Route 7-Merritt project
The Norwalk Hour     March 18, 2008   
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State Department of Transportation officials will be at Norwalk City Hall tonight to explain and answer questions about revamped plans for the Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange.

Two years after the Merritt Parkway Conservancy and other preservationists groups halted the DOT's original design to modernize the interchange, the transportation department is looking seriously at a plan known as "Modified Cloverleaf Interchange With Ramp 'D' Option No. 2."

"It is a compromise plan that the DOT is comfortable with and that the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, with whom we've been discussing alternatives the last year and a half, is also comfortable," said Thomas A. Harley, manager of consultant design at the transportation department. "At this point what we're really looking to do is get feedback from the other stakeholders involved. That is the public, public officials and other interested parties, and make sure that these parties are comfortable with the alternative being moved ahead."

The DOT's "Public Information and Scoping Meeting" about the redesign is scheduled for 6:30 tonight in the concert auditorium of City Hall, 125 East Ave. The meeting will begin with an open house at which residents may view the plans and ask questions, followed by a formal presentation at 7:30 p.m.

At stake is how the state will rebuild the busy interchange, including where the parkway connects with Main Avenue as well as with the Route 7 connector.

The Parkway Conservancy and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit labeled the state's original design as too large, costly and destructive to the historic roadway.

Leigh Grant, conservancy board member, has described the "Modified Cloverleaf Interchange With Ramp 'D' Option No. 2" as an outgrowth of the design put forward by the conservancy years ago.

"We support (Option No. 2) with landscape buffers and as a little impact on the wetlands as possible, and we support it with flyovers that match the Perry Avenue Bridge — the old flyovers are hideous," said Grant, referring to elevated ramps at the bridge. "We believe that the change in the design of the elevated ramps is included (in Option No. 2), but we have not discussed with the DOT the buffer zones or the wetlands impact."

According to the conservancy, Option No. 2 maintains as best possible the historic characteristics of the parkway, the new bridges at Main Avenue and Perry Avenue will be built to a "style and standard consistent with the original bridges built on the parkway," ramps to and from the parkway will not be lit, and the design requires less and shorter lengths of ramps.

Harley said the DOT will make a tentative decision on what plan to move forward with following tonight's public information meeting. During the next year, the department will prepare an environmental report for the Federal Highway Administration while at the same time engineering Option No. 2.

"DOT will be preparing an environmental document which will evaluate the various alternatives and ultimately result in a final recommended alternative," Harley said. "We're identifying the preferred option (to)night and trying to get consensus on that, so we can move forward with the design of the project concurrent with this environmental document."

"Construction is three-and-a-half to four years off, and it's probably three years of construction," he added.

In March 2006, U.S. District Court in New Haven found that the Federal Highway Administration had not met its legal "obligation to ensure that all possible planning was done to minimize harm prior to approving the interchange project." The DOT soon afterward has terminated its $34-million contract for Phase One of the planned interchange overhaul.

State will unveil plans for Route 7 interchange
Norwalk Advocate           
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By Jonathan Lucas, Assistant City Editor     February 15, 2008

Plans for the long-stalled Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange in Norwalk will be presented at a public hearing next month.  The state Department of Transportation has scheduled a hearing for March 18 at Norwalk City Hall. A snow date is scheduled for March 20.

The DOT is considering a few designs, spokesman Kevin Nursick said. Each plan represents compromises taken to balance DOT needs with Merritt Parkway Conservancy concerns about preserving the road's historic character.

The conservancy took the DOT to federal court two years ago and blocked its $100 million plan to connect the parkway to Route 7 to and from the east.

The plan called for tall ramps and for the interchange at Main Avenue to be widened to six lanes, destroying the historic Main Avenue bridge.  "We're at a point where we can move forward and bring it to the public process to get public input and vet it out," Nursick said.

Keith Simpson, a conservancy board member and the group's spokesman on the project, could not be reached yesterday.  Gov. M. Jodi Rell has called for the DOT and the conservancy to get the project moving again as quickly as possible.

The two sides have been meeting for more than a year.  Because the Merritt is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the conservancy has insisted that bridges and landscaping cannot be destroyed unless the DOT can prove it explored all other alternatives.

Since the judge's decision, the DOT has come up with alternative designs that lower the height of the ramps.  The conservancy countered with a design that incorporates "cloverleaf" structures connecting Route 7 to the Merritt Parkway. 

The DOT has opposed cloverleafs because they could cause motorists entering the parkway to weave into traffic.  But if residents favor the cloverleaf design, the DOT will consider it because the conservancy's proposal is long enough to avoid weaving, said Thomas Harley, DOT project manager.

Despite protests from the conservancy, all of the designs on display will include a widened six-lane Main Avenue interchange, Harley said.

Rell hopes hearing accelerates Merritt-Rt. 7 project                      top of page
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer    January 4, 2008    Norwalk Advocate

The state is planning a public meeting in February or March to discuss alternative designs for the long-stalled Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange in Norwalk, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced yesterday.

Three or four alternatives will be displayed as the state hopes to move forward on the $100 million project. Last year, a federal judge ordered construction to stop because the plans from the state Department of Transportation violated U.S. preservation laws.

"I want this issue resolved once and for all, and as quickly as possible," Rell said in a statement. "It is time for everyone to listen to one another, come up with a plan that makes sense for everyone and the environment, and get this project off the drawing board and moving toward reality."

For more than a year, DOT officials have been meeting with members of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, which helped lead the federal suit that halted the project nearly two years ago.

The state's original design included tall ramps connecting the parkway to Route 7 to and from the east. The interchange at Main Avenue was to be widened to six lanes, destroying the historic Main Avenue bridge and sections of parkway landscaping.

Because the Merritt is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, conservancy members said the bridges and landscaping could not be destroyed unless the DOT could prove it explored all other alternatives.

Since the judge's decision, the DOT has come up with alternative designs that lower the height of the ramps. The plans should be displayed at the public meeting, which is scheduled for the end of February or March, said Thomas Harley, DOT project manager.

The conservancy countered with a design that incorporates "cloverleaf" structures connecting Route 7 to the Merritt.

In the past, DOT has opposed cloverleafs because they could cause motorists entering the parkway to weave into traffic. But if residents favor the cloverleaf design, the DOT will consider it because the conservancy's proposal is long enough to avoid weaving, Harley said.

Despite protest from the conservancy, all of the designs on display will include a widened six-lane Main Avenue interchange, Harley said.  Keith Simpson, a conservancy board member and the group's spokesman on the project, could not be reached yesterday.

The meeting schedule should be final within two weeks, Rell said.  She has urged the DOT to meet with "important stakeholders" such as Norwalk officials, the conservancy and the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, before and after the public meetings.

"We don't really have any special lines of information," said Floyd Lapp, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency and a member of the planning organization. "However, we are anxious to get a resolution of this issue. The longer this goes, the more money it's going to cost."

Wilton Villager        November 2, 2007 -  Jared Newman                 top of page
NORWALK — In the battle for a "Super 7" highway, Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, has the last laugh for now.  On Monday, state Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, decided to use discretionary funding to study the viability of the highway, which would connect Norwalk to either Wilton or Danbury.

"This is an important project for Senator Duff and his constituents in Norwalk and Darien , and I have agreed to support his efforts.," Williams said in a written statement.

In September, Duff inserted language calling for the study into a bonding package, which Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed for unrelated reasons. Williams's commitment means Duff no longer needs approval from his fellow lawmakers to conduct a study.

"The great thing is that I pretty much get to determine the size and scope of the study based on the resources we have," Duff said in an interview.   Intended to ease traffic between Norwalk and Danbury , Super 7 has been proposed, on and off, for over four decades. Duff also pushed for the expressway with a senate bill in March, but it never survived the legislature's transportation committee.

Duff also held a rally this year, and said some of the attendees — Sen. Andrew McDonald of Stamford , Reps. Bruce Morris and Chris Perone of Norwalk and mayor Richard Moccia, also of Norwalk — could help him with the study.

"Personally I'd rather have the shovels in the ground tomorrow to start this," Duff said, but the study hasn't been updated since 1993 and there's more traffic on Route 7 than ever before, so he said it's time for a fresh look. He hasn't figured out the cost of the study yet.

Sen. Judith Freedman and Rep. Toni Boucher of Wilton both called the money a "slush fund" and doubted the credibility of any resulting study.  "I think the study's already preordained by the people who are going to do it and the people that are asking for the study," Freedman said.

Duff's method of securing funding is deceptive, Freedman said, and it undermines the transportation committee's earlier determination not to build Super 7.

Boucher was offended by the news of the study as well, saying it would be the same as if Wilton's representatives tried to impose a major project on Norwalk or Darien .

"I certainly hope he doesn't need the town of Wilton or Ridgefield 's votes for any future position he'd like to have, I can tell you that," Boucher said.  She also said the study has no teeth. "It's just information he can put in the paper or present," she said, "but it does not mandate the [Department of Transportation] can do anything with it."

Duff said he wants to make sure the study will be credible, but offered no further details. He will make an announcement with more information in coming weeks.

Progress on Merritt/Route 7 project? – Editorial, Norwalk Advocate
October 31, 2007                           
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Could it be? After appearing hopelessly stalled, the much-needed project to build a new Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange in Norwalk could be closer to becoming a reality. Slightly closer, but at this point we will take what we can get.

Just last month we were backing the idea of bringing in a third-party mediator to try to break the stalemate between the state Department of Transportation and local preservationists over a plan to build a new interchange at Main Avenue, which could provide relief from terrible traffic that has knotted the area and endangered drivers for years.

The project has been in the works for more than 10 years, and the DOT was finally poised to begin in 2005 when the Merritt Parkway Conservancy sued to halt work. Not much happened then until last fall, when Gov. M. Jodi Rell directed the state's transportation commissioner to seek a deal with preservationists.

Now DOT officials say they are considering an interchange design that incorporates parts of a plan recommended by preservationists. Parkway Conservancy members object to the DOT's original design because it would harm a bridge on the parkway, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The new plan would employ "cloverleaf" structures to connect Route 7 and the Merritt to and from the east. The DOT has "tried to move away" from cloverleafs, officials said, because they can cause cars trying to enter the highway to have to weave through others trying to exit. Obviously, moving ahead with a design that would be unsafe would not be the way to go. But it appears that the DOT's willingness to consider a conservancy design shows good faith in trying to reach a solution.

Even in the best-case scenario, the earliest public hearings could be held on the new designs would be early next year. Who knows when actual work could begin? But even a tiny thaw in the frigid relations between the DOT and conservationists is the first good news about the interchange project to emerge, at least publicly, in a very long time.

State Senate leader backs Duff's call for Super 7 study                        top of page
By Brian Lockhart, Staff Writer       October 31, 2007
Norwalk Advocate

- The state Senate president has agreed to pay for a study on completing the long-delayed Super 7 expressway between Norwalk and Danbury.

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who has tried to revive the project over the years, said it's a good move.  "We need to continue to prove the case that 'Super 7' is something that is viable, needed and environmentally friendly," Duff said.

Planned more than 50 years ago, the proposed four- to six-lane highway linking Interstate 95 to Interstate 84 in Danbury was fought by environmentalists and residents of Wilton, Redding and Ridgefield.  Portions of the current Route 7 recently were widened to accommodate increased traffic.

Over the summer, Duff convinced Democratic leaders to require in the state bond bill that the Department of Transportation perform an engineering analysis and set a date for completing a portion of Super 7 from Norwalk into Wilton.

Opponents said Duff's effort had no teeth because it had no money.  The mandate was stripped from the revised bond bill approved yesterday by the General Assembly yesterday. But Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said he will donate some of the millions in discretionary budget funds to hire an outside consultant for Duff.

"It's a high priority for Senator Duff. What he's working on now is really just getting additional information," Williams said. "Nobody's putting a shovel in the ground. They're just looking at the current feasibility of a project like this."

Duff wants the study to include an engineering analysis, a timeframe for construction, identification of physical, social or environmental obstacles, cost estimates and potential sources of funding. Whether it examines the entire stretch to Danbury or just the route from Norwalk to Wilton depends on cost, Duff said.

Williams and Duff declined to say how much they expect to spend.  "It's not going to be a huge amount," Williams said.  The state budget office would oversee the study but the discretionary expenses of General Assembly leaders usually get minimum scrutiny and little to no legislative review.  Duff said Williams' financial commitment is a sign of progress.

"The Super 7 study went from an unfunded study to a funded study," Duff said. "Considering the history of this roadway, getting it this far in one year is pretty good."  But state Rep. Antonietta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, a Super 7 opponent, said she is not worried.  "Anybody can study anything. That doesn't mean a hill of beans," Boucher said. "DOT is going to have to decide whether they want to do anything with it and they're going to run up against the same issues."

Williams' support does not guarantee the Senate and House of Representatives will fund the Super 7 project, she said.  It is unfortunate that Williams wants to spend his discretionary funds on Duff's "personal crusade and pipe dream" instead of on things that would benefit taxpayers, Boucher said.  "But it's their money to spend," she said.

Super 7 study included in bond package                             top of page
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer       September 21, 2007
HARTFORD - Lower Fairfield County commuters were big winners yesterday when the state legislature passed its bonding package, containing millions of dollars for rail station parking, new rail cars, road improvements and the elimination of the unpopular $1-per-ride surcharge on the New Haven Line.

But an unexpected fight occurred during the one-day special session over the last-minute inclusion of a mandate to study a stretch of the long-considered Super 7 highway between Norwalk into Wilton.

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, worked to include the study - which did not include a request for funds - because he said traffic continues to worsen as commuting increases from northern suburbs into Stamford and Norwalk.

It took the Senate several hours to pass a Democrat-backed $3.2 billion bond package on a 21-12 vote that fell along party lines. The House passed the bill on a mostly party-line 84-38 vote shortly before midnight.

Opponents of the Super 7 study said they were confident it could be removed later when the General Assembly meets for another special session.

The proposed four-to-six lane super highway connecting Interstate 95 in Norwalk to Interstate 84 in Danbury has gone nowhere in the legislature for more than 50 years because of opposition from environmentalists and residents of Wilton, Redding and Ridgefield.

The bond package calls for a state Department of Transportation study of the Route 7 corridor between Norwalk and Route 33 in Wilton.

The report is to be submitted to the legislature's Transportation Committee by the end of this year and include an engineering analysis, time frame for completion of the stretch of Super 7 from Norwalk into Wilton, identification of obstacles, cost estimates and potential funding sources.

The study also is to analyze what to do with Wilton land the state has accumulated for the project if Super 7 is never built.  "I thought this was an issue that was clearly put to bed a long time ago," said state Sen. Judith Freedman, R-Westport, who proposed an unsuccessful Senate amendment to strike the Super 7 language from the bonding bill. "I believe this particular project keeps reviving itself over and over again when it has been told that it's going nowhere."

State Rep. Antoinetta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, a longtime critic of Super 7, was optimistic that the study could be quashed later this year.  Boucher called Duff a "political opportunist," for adding the study into the bonding bill at the 11th hour.

"I really have been trying to move the ball forward on this project, but it's been stalled," Duff said on the Senate floor.  "My constituents are tired of having traffic end in Norwalk," he said, referring to the tie-ups that occur on Route 7 where the connector ends at Grist Mill Road.

Earlier this year, Duff held a rally in Norwalk for Super 7 support and more than 100 people attended, which he said shows there is still interest in the highway despite protests from other communities.

Transportation initiatives passed in the final bonding package include $35 million for a new parking garage at the Stamford train station and language to allow the state DOT to authorize public-private partnerships for the construction of transit-oriented development projects.

Stamford is slated to receive $10 million to widen and increase the height of the railroad bridge over Atlantic Street.  Stamford officials have called improving the choke point an important component of their planned development in the South End.  An annual 1 percent fare increase for seven years on the New Haven Line starting in 2010 was passed to replace a $1-per-ride surcharge that was to go into effect next year.  The fare increase will be used to partially fund new rail cars for the New Haven Line.

Despite some criticism from Republicans about the number of earmarks in the bonding bill, the transportation component was almost universally praised in the Senate.  "There is much there I admire," said state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, who voted against the overall bonding package. "There is much we need to move forward on."
- The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Merritt group, DOT: Progress slow on Rt. 7 interchange                         top of page
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer and Jonathan Lucas, Assistant City Editor   
September 21, 2007
NORWALK - The state Department of Transportation and preservationists said they are making progress on a compromise design for completing the Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange, but remain miles apart on many issues.  "We are still working with (the conservancy) to hash out a project," DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said. "I think we're closer than where we were three months ago."

In July, DOT officials said they were about a month away from picking a design and expected to begin construction of the $80 million to $100 million project by 2011. Nursick yesterday would not provide an updated timeline.

The Merritt Parkway Conservancy, a nonprofit group that aims to preserve the road's history, successfully won a federal injunction blocking the DOT from pursuing its original plans last year. The conservancy argued the work would ruin the road's historic character. The parkway is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The conservancy opposes the DOT's plans to demolish the Main Avenue parkway bridge in order to widen the street from four to six lanes and build ramps that would soar 30 feet above the Merritt.  "We are hopeful we are going to settle on a design that reaches both of our needs," Nursick said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered the DOT last year to devise a plan to appease the conservancy's concerns and get the project moving. No deadline for negotiations has been set. One conservancy official said the two sides are still months from a resolution.

"The differences between our two plans at this moment are very substantial, and the Merritt Parkway Conservancy is in no way likely to find favor with the DOT's plan," said Keith Simpson, a New Canaan landscape architect who serves as vice chairman of the conservancy and is overseeing the redesign effort. "We're looking to the DOT to make a major step in direction of rethinking its plan along the lines we put forward."

Working with its own highway engineers, the conservancy has developed a plan it said would accommodate traffic, preserve the parkway's character, be built faster and save taxpayers between $30 million and $50 million.  The conservancy's plan shrinks the scope and scale of the project by keeping most of the interchange on the same level as the parkway and reducing the number of bridges crisscrossing the Norwalk River.

"We're very pleased with what we've been able to do and believe we've been able to respond to the governor to find a resolution of our differences," Simpson said.  Simpson expects to present the conservancy's plan to area leaders at the next meeting of the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization on Monday. The conservancy's next meeting with the DOT will be late next month.

"If the DOT moves over to a variation of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy plan, then probably we could move ahead in a matter of weeks," Simpson said. "If they continue to hold onto (their plan), I can't predict how long it will take, but the Merritt Parkway Conservancy will continue to oppose it."

Wilton police concerned about Route 7 safety                                top of page
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer July 2, 2007
Wilton police are asking the state to lower the speed limit near a Route 7 construction site because a number of officers directing traffic there have been hit by cars, though none was seriously hurt.

In a letter sent last week to Department of Transportation Commissioner Ralph Carpenter, Wilton Police Chief Edward Kulhawik said lowering the speed limit from 35 mph and 40 mph to 30 mph could make the site safer for officers. "There has been nothing life-threatening, but the fact that this is happening right now is of great concern to us," Kulhawik said. "As we go through this, we're starting to notice things and we're trying to be proactive about it."

Since the state began the $35 million widening project between Wolfpit Road and the Ridgefield-Wilton border in the fall, three officers have been struck by vehicles and others have had "close calls," according to the letter. All of the injuries were minor, though one officer missed a few days of work with an injured shoulder, Kulhawik said.

DOT officials said they referred the matter to the State Traffic Commission, a panel of representatives from the DOT, the Department of Public Safety and Department of Motor Vehicles. "It is something we will look at," DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said.

The traffic commission meets monthly, but the DOT could not guarantee the Wilton request will be placed on the July agenda. It is the only written complaint the DOT has received about the Route 7 construction, Nursick said. No DOT workers have been injured, he said.

The 4-mile reconstruction project will add lanes in each direction on Route 7 in Wilton. The DOT has similar projects in Ridgefield, Danbury and New Milford, and plans projects in Redding and Norwalk.

The widening has been viewed as an alternative to extension of the Super 7, a proposed highway between Norwalk and Danbury that would connect at Interstate 84. Super 7 has been stalled for decades because of opposition from environmentalists and residents of Wilton, Redding and Ridgefield.

When the DOT announced the widening plans for Wilton, town officials worked with the agency to make sure construction would not interfere with traffic or disrupt schools and businesses. Town officials said last week they back the police department's efforts to slow vehicles traveling through the construction site.

"We know there's always a concern with speeding at a construction (site) in general," said state Rep. Antonietta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton. Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said his town has not had problems with speeding through the construction area there, but "we support Wilton's efforts to lower the speed limit."

Shortsighted on Route 7                                     top of page
Letters to the Editor   6/24/7                     Norwalk Advocate

We need the Route 7 expressway connecting Interstate 95 in Norwalk to Interstate 84 in Danbury.

However, people still cringe at the thought of expanding highways.  There’s a stereotype that the expansion of highways will ruin a town’s character and economy.

People also have a condition called the “Not in My Back Yard Syndrome.”  As with any construction project, there always will be people against it for their own personal reasons.  These people only think of their situation and not the region’s needs.

In July 2005, a truck driver was killed when the truck he was driving, carrying 8,000 gallons of gasoline, flipped over on Route 7 in Ridgefield.  The accident shut down Route 7 for a couple of days, and traffic was detoured onto local streets.  Police say the accident happened when a vehicle cut in front of the truck from a side street.  The heavy traffic causes drivers to be more “daring.”

If the expressway were built, the tanker crash probably wouldn’t have happened.  Most likely, the tanker would’ve traveled on the expressway. Think of how much business was lost when Route 7 was closed down while repairs were made to fix the roadway.  Without the expressway, the July 2005 accident could happen again.

On the flip side, the Department of Transportation is expanding the existing Route7 expressway, also known as the “Brookfield bypass,” from tis current terminus at Federal Road in Brookfield three mile sto the north in New Milford.  Town officials say the plan will alleviate congestion and increase business on the current two-lane Federal Road (Route 7).  With traffic reduced, officials hope to build a town center that up until now they couldn’t do because of safety concerns from heavy traffic.  How come this can’t be accomplished won in Wilton, Ridgefield, or Redding?
Erich Bachman, Naugatuck

NewTimesLive.com        5/17/7                      top of page
Route 7 bypass - A highway project kept alive by Governor Rell
Work has finally begun on the Route 7 bypass, a long-delayed project that had become a symbol of the state's neglect of western Connecticut.

This 2.1 mile highway, scheduled to be completed by the end of 2008, will take traffic around Brookfield's Four Corners, making it easier to commute to and from New Milford and points north.

It will improve safety on the side roads in New Milford and Brookfield that are now used by commuters trying to avoid the bottleneck at the Four Corners.

And with all but local traffic out of the Four Corners, Brookfield will be able to move forward with plans to create a village center for residential and commercial uses where there now is an intersection dominated by gas stations.

A short stretch of highway shouldn't have taken so many decades to fund and build. That it did says more about state government than it does about the need for the bypass.

What's now known as Super 7, the short highway that runs from Danbury to Brookfield and dumps traffic just south of the Four Corners, wasn't supposed to be what it is.

But the state ran out of money for the project in the 1970s and just ended the road, one of those roads left as a "road to nowhere," although Brookfield and New Milford aren't nowhere.

For decades, local officials, legislators and residents demanded a solution, but finishing this road project was not on the state's agenda.

Planners at the state Department of Transportation thought it was too expensive and not as important as other road projects, although the mess that needed to be fixed had been created by DOT's poor planning.

At one point, DOT even suggested the solution was to simply widen Federal Road as it runs through the Four Corners, the better to move traffic -- even if it meant paving what Brookfield residents hoped would be the paradise of a village center.

So how did the now-$87 million bypass project finally move ahead? Old-fashioned political connections.

M. Jodi Rell of Brookfield, who had worked hard on the bypass as a legislator, was elected lieutenant governor in 1994. Whenever DOT seemed interested in canceling plans for the bypass, it was the lieutenant governor of Connecticut who asked the pointed questions.

On July 1, 2004, the day Rell became governor, it was clear the bypass would no longer be delayed.

When political clout gets involved in public policy, the outcome is not always positive. But in this case, western Connecticut finally had an advocate who understood that the bypass brought considerable economic advantages to Fairfield and Litchfield counties.

Good public projects should be able to gain approval on their own, without political clout. In this case, good public policy was thwarted for decades by a state bureaucracy that tends to focus on transportation projects in the central part of the state because that is where the bureaucrats live.


DOT: Route 7 work in Wilton progressing     Norwalk Advocate
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer     April 12, 2007        
             top of page
WILTON - Work is going smoothly on a $35 million project to widen Route 7 in Wilton from two lanes to four between Wolfpit Road-Route 106 and Olmstead Hill Road, state Department of Transportation officials said yesterday.

Construction has caused few traffic tie-ups and minimal affect for businesses along the busy roadway, officials said.  The state's communication with the town also has been top-notch, said state Rep. Antonietta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton.

The DOT "really has done an exemplary job with outreach on this project," Boucher said. "This is a very important artery, and everyone has been told what's happening with advance notice. (DOT) gets high marks here."

Construction in the corridor, which is used by more than 30,000 motorists a day, began in September and is expected to last four years. Because the project could affect businesses, schools and residents along Route 7, the DOT plans to keep the town informed at various stages of construction, officials said.  "It depends on the project," said Paul Breen, a DOT assistant district engineer. "When it's a U.S. route that goes right through the center of the town . . . we're going to explain how the work is going to affect the community.  "It's our attempt to be good neighbors."

The town has been active with planning the project since it was proposed years ago. The widening is viewed as a compromise to the 50-year-old effort to build a "Super 7" highway between Norwalk and Danbury. Plans for this four- to six-lane highway have been stalled for decades because of protests by environmentalists and Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding residents.

The DOT has other widening projects under construction in New Milford, Danbury and Ridgefield, and recently unveiled plans to widen Route 7 between Grist Mill Road in Norwalk, where the Route 7 expressway ends, and Route 33 in Wilton.

The Norwalk project is expected to begin in 2009.  The opening phase of construction in Wilton has mainly focused on utility work, landscape clearing and rock blasting, Breen said. Eventually, the state will flatten the highway's grade and install a new drainage system.

A lane is expected to be open in both directions throughout the project, with possible closures only late at night.  It's too early to say how the latter stages of construction will affect businesses along Route 7, said Stephanie Barksdale, executive director of the Wilton Chamber of Commerce.

"When they get into the construction season and work becomes more invasive, we'll have to see," Barksdale said. "So far, there's been no reason for people to complain."

Merritt-Route 7 interchange may be delayed another year
Norwalk Advocate                           
top of page

By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer     April 2, 2007   
Construction of the Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange in Norwalk likely will not restart this month as projected and could be delayed for the rest of the year or longer, state officials said.

Merritt Parkway preservationists, who blocked construction last year through litigation, and state Department of Transportation officials will meet again next month to discuss design proposals, DOT officials said.

If both sides agree on a radically different design for the interchange, construction could be delayed for months or another year, DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said.

"The goal is to get something done as soon as possible," Nursick said. "But I hesitate to say we can roll something out this year. There are some big variables to consider."

Last year, a federal judge halted construction on the $98 million project to connect both directions of the parkway to Route 7 in Norwalk.  The Merritt Parkway Conservancy and other preservation and community groups sued the Federal Highway Administration, saying the agency did not consider plans that would cause less damage to the parkway's historical features.

The state's two-phase project would have destroyed parkway bridges and landscape features.  The Merritt Parkway is federally protected on the National Register of Historic Places.

When construction was stopped last year, DOT officials said they were aiming to restart in April.  Now, depending on the final design, the state may have to open the project up to new bidders, hold another public hearing and get new environmental permits, Nursick said.

He would not estimate how long that could take.  Both sides believe an agreement will be settled.  "We're sharing ideas as to how to do it," said Keith Simpson, the conservancy's vice chairman and a landscape architect in New Canaan. "We both talked about where the problems are. They've been good people to work with."

Simpson would not say how far they are from agreement. The conservancy submitted an alternative design drawn up by engineers, but it has not been made public.   State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said more pressure must be put on the state and the conservancy to agree. 

"I really wish the DOT and the conservancy would meet more often and treat this like the priority it should be," Duff said. "We should really hold everyone's feet to the fire to get them to sit in a room and reach a solution."

Other Norwalk officials are less concerned by the delays and hope that, when there is an agreement, construction can restart without further interruption.  "It's better they take the time to make sure it's done right and to everyone's satisfaction," said Ed Musante, president and chief executive officer of the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce. "A longer delay is not necessarily a bad thing."

DOT plans to widen 2 miles of Route 7             
Norwalk Advocate   
             top of page
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer     March 28, 2007

NORWALK - The state Department of Transportation last night unveiled its plan to widen Route 7 for 2 miles from Norwalk to Wilton to improve traffic flow.

The $18 million project is another step in the widening plan, drawn up by the DOT during the 1990s as an alternative to the controversial proposed Super 7 highway between Norwalk and Danbury.

The road will be widened to four lanes between Grist Mill Road in Norwalk, where the Route 7 expressway ends, and Route 33 in Wilton, said Brian Cunningham, DOT project manager.

Turn lanes will be added at major intersections, and better-coordinated traffic signals will be installed, Cunningham said.  "We feel we can make improvements on the roadway . . . that will reduce accidents," Cunningham said at last night's public meeting at Norwalk City Hall.

There were 1,450 accidents on Route 7 from 1999 to 2004, DOT officials said. About 60 percent of them were rear-end accidents, and 17 percent were turning accidents.

Construction is expected to begin by spring 2009 and will be complete by the end of 2010, Cunningham said.  A half-dozen residents attended the hearing to ask questions about the impact on Route 7, which is used by about 46,000 drivers a day in Norwalk and 36,000 in Wilton.

Norwalk resident Kevin Roeder, 46, spoke out against the widening, telling DOT officials it would be better to finish the Super 7.  "In 30 years, if you look at this and traffic is getting worse, is your plan going to be to widen it more or to build a superhighway?" asked Roeder, whose family's house in Norwalk was acquired by the state in 1971 to build Super 7. "My family was uprooted, but I'm still waiting."

Super 7 has been stalled for more than 50 years because of opposition from environmentalists and residents of Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding.  The superhighway would run from Norwalk to Danbury, connecting at Interstate 84.

State officials said they've acquired 40 percent to 60 percent of the property needed to build Super 7 but have not estimated the cost to finish it.  Legislation was proposed this year that would make the DOT put the Super 7 back in its immediate plans, but the bill did not make it out of the Transportation Committee.

Instead, the state has been widening segments of Route 7.  The current road-widening project between Wolf Point Road in Wilton and the Wilton-Ridgefield border is costing $35 million.  The widening in Norwalk will be less complicated because the state will build on "slivers" on land, Cunningham said.

The state must acquire a Wilton home just north of Grumman Hill Road. Residents likely will be contacted by midsummer about possible property acquisitions, DOT officials said.

Transportation panel nixes Super 7 plan                             top of page
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer    Norwalk Advocate     March 20, 2007
Lawmakers yesterday approved a number of bills to improve the state's bus and rail service, but a controversial proposal to revive the Super 7 highway was not voted out of committee.  Supporters of the long-stalled highway between Norwalk and Danbury vowed to keep fighting for it after learning that the legislature's Transportation Committee did not approve it before yesterday's deadline.

Lawmakers who opposed the Super 7 bill said the committee's actions prove the state's focus has shifted to mass transit and away from superhighways.  "It's going to take some time before we have shovels in the ground, but I'm going to keep fighting for this until the session ends," said state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who proposed the Super 7 bill. "This issue is far bigger than just a bill. The outcry we got, both for and against the Super 7, shows what an important topic this is for people."

More than two months remain in the legislative session, and the Super 7 bill could be attached to other "vehicles," Duff said.

But there is too much opposition and not enough money to build Super 7, critics said.  The project has been stalled for more than 50 years by environmentalists and residents of Wilton, Redding and Ridgefield. The state owns about 60 percent of the land needed for the project, which would cost more than $1 billion to finish.

The state should be focused on improving rail service and the existing Route 7, said state Rep. Antonietta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton.  "Let us now all work together to make much needed improvements to our area's infrastructure," Boucher said. "Imagine how much can be accomplished if we presented a united front in promoting these worthy projects," such as widening the existing Route 7, completing the Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange and improving Metro-North Railroad's Danbury line.

Bills approved by the committee include a package proposed by House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford. The initiatives are an expansion of a bill put forward by Gov. M. Jodi Rell and include $35 million for a new garage at the Stamford train station, $5 million for rail station improvements, 24 new rail cars for Metro-North's New Haven Line, $275 million to improve bus service over five years, and more money to repair roads and bridges.

The committee also approved money to study use of rail freight to remove trucks from the road and to study electronic tolls that charge motorists varying rates based on peak and off-peak hours.  To help residents living near highways, the committee approved money for sound barriers. The state Department of Transportation will create a priority list to determine who gets barriers first.

State Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, said it was a banner year for the Transportation Committee.  "It was one of the most productive transportation sessions in a number of years," said Nickerson, a committee member.

The legislature approved $3.5 billion in transportation projects the past two years and kept the momentum going this year, Nickerson said.

ConnDOT: State owns 60% of land for Super 7                              top of page
Norwalk Hour     March 17, 2007 by Patrick R. Linsey

New numbers from the state Department of Transportation have cheered from “Super 7” advocates. ConnDOT revised upwards the percentage of the land it currently owns to build the so-called Super 7 expressway.

Last month, ConnDOT officials said they believed the state owned 40% of the land, but last week they said the current figure is 60%. However, ConnDOT spokesman Kevin Nursick was quick to point out that might not matter, as the plans for Route 7 date back more than 20 years.

“There is nothing saying right now that we would be able to build a Super 7 on the alignment proposed,” Nusick said. “We would need to do feasibility studies. We would need to do environmental impact statements. We would need to keep in mind financial considerations. All of these things are completely different than they were 20 years ago.”

Route 7 runs from Norwalk north through Danbury, mostly as a two-lane thoroughfare dotted with traffic lights and lined with businesses. Norwalk elected officials and business leaders have been pushing for a Route 7 expressway for more than 50 years, drawing fierce resistance from the northern suburbs of Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding.

Most of the land the state now owns for their highway project was acquired in the 1960’s, some of it through eminent domain seizures. The state owns approximately 980 acres, Nursick said, most of it in Wilton. It would need to acquire around 600 more acres under the current plan.

State Sen. Bob duff, D-25 who last year introduced legislation aimed at moving Super 7 forward, said ConnDot’s revised estimate is good news. He plans to meet with ConnDot officials on the matter next week.

“60% is obviously much better than 40%, but they still may be basing it on old designs because I envision the new Super 7 being much more narrow,” Duff said. “I kind of envision it as much more of Merritt Parkway kind of highway than a highway like I-95.”

State Rep. Toni Boucher, R-143, an ardent Super 7 critic, said one of the main reaons the expressway was proposed is for truck traffic. “It’s a truck highway. That’s what it was originally designated for,” Boucher said. “To have a parkway will not be acceptable to the truck industry.”

Boucher said ConnDot’s new figures don’t make construction of a Super 7 anymore likely. Environmental concerns and the cost would still kill the project regardless of state support, she said.

“It is not feasible, no matter how much Bob Duff wants it, no matter how much a business or two in Norwalk wants it,” she said. “The obstacles are too great.”

Super 7 opposition revs up Groups vow to fight revived highway plan
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer   Norwalk Hour      March 4, 2007

If a bill to revive the "Super 7" highway between Norwalk and Danbury gains momentum in the legislature, Victor Demasi said he is armed and ready.  "Nobody wants to start a project when you've already got the German army in front of you," the Redding resident said.

During the 1980s, Demasi was leader of Citizens for a Sensible 7, a group that was a key opponent of the controversial Super 7 expressway because of its potential environmental impact.  Though it has been years since the coalition last formally met, Demasi is confident his group, and others that have fought the highway for 50 years, will assemble "doubly quick."  "We put out a good team years ago, and we can do it again," he said.

Some of Super 7's staunchest critics were put on alert last month when state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, proposed a bill mandating a timeline for completion of the highway. Super 7 would create a vital north-south connection in lower Fairfield County, taking cars off local roads while creating business opportunities for the region, Duff said.

The bill received a public hearing in the legislature's transportation committee two weeks ago, where its opponents, mostly residents and elected officials from Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding, showed up in large numbers.  When residents fought Super 7 during the 1980s, more than 1,500 people signed on to the cause, Demasi said. Many opponents had deep pockets, helping the coalition hire lawyers, engineers and scientists to add credibility to their argument, he added.

Because of the high cost of the project - with land acquisition, it could take billions of dollars - most foes are doubtful the bill will be voted out of the transportation committee. But they are closely watching Super 7's progress.  If it did get out of committee, "we would campaign against it as we did before," said Marilyn Gould, executive director of the Wilton Historical Society and a member of the coalition, Citizens for Balanced Environment and Transportation, during the 1980s.

Money is being collected by former coalition members, Gould added. "We can mount a team very quickly."  With the Internet, there's no telling how large the opposition could become, said Maryanne Guitar, a former Redding first selectwoman who wrote the 1972 book "Property Power," about how residents can legally block construction projects.  "Back then, we had to call everyone up by telephone," said Guitar, who was a member of the Citizens Action Council in the 1970s. "Now we can just blog about it."

Duff said he is not discouraged by the opposition. His bill was supported by a majority of the towns represented in the South Western Region's Metropolitan Planning Organization, and those speaking out against the highway are "a vocal minority," Duff said.  "I'm in this for the long haul," he said. "I plan on keeping this on the table until something gets done. I'm willing to take my lumps for the common good."

Wilton officials are taking a "wait-and-see approach" about what they view as a "publicity stunt" by Duff, First Selectman Bill Brennan said.  When asked whether Wilton and other towns could legally block highway construction if it were to be approved by the legislature, Brennan said he would have to seek legal counsel before answering.

If the bill survives, the towns will do what they can to take the proposal off the table forever, said Natalie Ketcham, Redding's first selectwoman.  "If the improbable happens, we can fight it at the legislative level," she said. "It's time to put the final nail in the coffin.

Feb 22, 2007    Wilton Bulletin Editorial: A brave new world                   top of page
It was a monumental failure before it was a success.

This week The Bulletin launched the first in what it is hoped will be an ongoing series of surveys, polls and interactive features on its Web site, www.wiltonbulletin.com, asking residents, “Should the state build Super 7?”

A Breaking News e-mail was sent to nearly 100 residents and town officials announcing the poll on Monday, and by midday a steady stream of votes were being cast, with more than 150 votes registered within a matter of hours. Then, some suspicious activity started to appear.

Someone, on an outside computer, figured out a way to circumvent the built-in security measures on the survey, which limited households to one vote per computer IP address, and The Bulletin staff quickly learned its first lesson in the darker side of the Internet world. Within a matter of hours some 700 or more fraudulent votes were cast in opposition to the Super 7 project and The Bulletin was forced to pull the survey. An hour later, a new poll requiring manual verification of the vote was installed, solving the hacking issue, but creating a new problem.

The new poll would not accept votes from those who had cast a ballot in the previous poll. That issue, too, was fixed, though there were a few reports from residents who could still not gain access to the site.

As of press time, there were roughly 375 votes cast in the new poll, with approximately 70% of respondents opposed to the Super 7 plan. The new poll appears, at least for now, to be secure.

In last week’s issue, and again in today’s paper, residents have called for the town to hold a referendum on the Super 7 question, saying a vote by residents would answer once and for all whether the town truly opposes Super 7, as town officials claim, or whether there is significant support for the project. And there should be a vote.

While The Bulletin’s poll has severe limitations — non-residents may vote, people may find ways to vote more than once, it is a non-scientific survey — a town vote would not have those issues. Each registered voter in town would have the opportunity to voice an opinion on Super 7, once, and at the end of the voting the town would know where the majority stands when it comes to the 50-year-old project.

And while The Bulletin poll is flawed in many ways in terms of accurately depicting the wishes of Wilton residents, it makes one thing abundantly clear. The Super 7 issue is extremely important to residents, shown through the acute interest, the rapid and immediate response online, and the aftermath of numerous e-mails, phone calls and other complaints and concerns about why the survey wasn’t working correctly and why The Bulletin was running it in the first place.

The Bulletin, like town officials, opposes the Super 7 plan, but it’s not really up to us.  Let the voters decide.

Opponents: 'Time for Super 7 has passed'                     top of page
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer     February 22, 2007      Norwalk Advocate
HARTFORD - Opponents of the long-stalled Super 7 highway between Danbury and Norwalk yesterday lashed out against a proposal to revive it.

Plans for the controversial highway are dead, critics said, and it is pointless for lawmakers to discuss it. Super 7 has been in limbo for more than 50 years because of opposition from Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding.

"The time for the Super 7 has passed," Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said during a public hearing of the legislature's Transportation Committee at the Capitol. "May it rest in peace."  Dedicating a public hearing to Super 7 was "a waste of valuable time," Redding First Selectwoman Natalie Ketchan said. "This lacks the will of the people. It's time to move on."

The committee was hearing testimony on a bill submitted by state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who wants the Department of Transportation to create a timeline for completing Super 7.  It makes "common sense" to build Super 7 because it would spur economic growth in lower Fairfield County and alleviate traffic on the existing Route 7, Duff said.  "It was needed back then, and it's still needed now," he said.

Earlier this month, Duff held a rally for Super 7 supporters in Norwalk that was attended by more than 150 people - proof that there is still a desire for it, he said.  "It is much harder to get someone out to support something than it is to get someone out who opposes something," Duff said of the rally.

DOT officials said recently that Super 7 is not in their long-term plans. Gov. M. Jodi Rell said it can't happen unless there is a consensus from all the municipalities affected by it.  The South Western Regional Planning Agency lists the project as an "unfunded need."

Questions for Duff from the committee, which primarily came from state Rep. Antonietta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, a longtime opponent of Super 7, focused on the need for expanded rail service and the ongoing $35 million widening of parts of Route 7.  When the state last formally debated Super 7 in the late 1990s, the widening project was agreed upon as a compromise to the highway, Boucher said.

Duff said the widening, which will open the road from two lanes to four lanes in certain sections, will create more bottlenecks.  He supports expanded service on the Danbury branch of Metro-North Railroad, but "it should never be either-or" with road and rail investment, Duff said.  Opponents also spoke of the environmental and aesthetic impacts of Super 7.

"This would be one of the worst environmental things that has ever happened to this state," said Roger Reynolds, a staff attorney for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. "Superhighways don't decrease congestion. They increase congestion."

February 21, 2007      Norwalk Advocate                top of page
To the editor:
Not long ago, I had reason to drive to a location in Long Island about 30 miles from New York City. Unfamiliar with the roadways, I was surprised by the number of beautiful parkways that interconnect Long Island. When it is not rush-hour, these roads apparently flow quite smoothly.

Has anyone considered a Route 7 Parkway, a North-South roadway exclusively for cars and light trucks? If such a roadway was designed with three vehicle lanes each way, there might be room to put in a light rail service along the median of the parkway, connecting the Danbury Mall to perhaps the Merritt 7 office complex. The light rail could be of the cable car variety - able to ascend and descend hills - so that tunnels would not have to be built to accommodate the rails.

Merritt Parkway preservationists might jump at the opportunity to help design a new 20-mile stretch of scenic parkway, and the roadway could be designed to keep noise to a minimum for nearby residents.

The blueprints for Super 7 are now some 50 years old. The land for the roadway is secured but any first step in resurrecting the project would involve reassessing the layout of the land and of course conducting a modern assessment of environmental and residential impacts. A parkway could be beautiful and technologically state-of the art. It could be built with noise and deer barriers. Its storm drains could run off to special sewer-treatment plants before continuing into Long Island Sound.

A Route 7 Parkway could become the pride of Southwestern Connecticut, and an incorporated rail system would help resolve some of the major improvement issues facing the present Norwalk-Danbury rail line.

The Rev. Colin McKenna, Wilton

Duff applauded for trying to put Super 7 on track    
Norwalk Hour, February 20, 2007                  
   top of page
To the Editor: 
I applaud Sen. Bob Duff and his commitment in trying to get the Super 7 back on track.  This has gone on long enough.  I can’t believe that a few people in the towns above Norwalk got this road put on the back burner for so long.  The state didn’t hesitate to throw out the people who lived in Norwalk most of t heir lives in the section in the part of the Super 7 that did get done.  They came up with the point that it would cost too much now, but when the road was supposed to be built the money was already funded. 

I just came down Route 7, and I don’t see where the road being widened can make any difference in the flow of traffic.  You still have the stop lights and intersections, plus in sections it is still is only going to be two lanes.  At the rate they are gong, it will be 2020 by the time it’s done.  So much for helping with traffic congestion.

This brings up the point of the Route 7 interchange on the Merritt Parkway. What happened?  A bunch of people get together and start in about the bridge and the effect the interchange will have on the environment, or some insect or bird.  Right now it looks like a disaster, not only being a danger.  I take it the ones against it have never had to exit going south on the parkway to Route 7.  I really think that the needs of the majority outweigh the people.  Who think ‘I don’t want this in my backyard,” but they like to drive in mine.

Stick with it, Sen. Duff, I and a lot more are with you.  It’s time for the people to take a stand and get the ball rolling again. 
John Mitchell, Norwalk

The Great Divide: Wilton residents split as Super 7 debate returns     top of page
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer       February 20, 2007
WILTON -- For more than 30 years, Mike Woods has wondered how a highway connecting Norwalk to Danbury could help ease traffic congestion on Route 7.

"It would get all the trucks off the road," said Woods, who has owned Auto Parts Plus on Route 7 since 1972. "I think it would be good for business. But I don't think the people who live in town will ever let it happen."

That's because for every Mike Woods, there's a Jack Maxwell, an opponent of the Super 7 highway.  "I think it's a bad idea," said Maxwell, owner for 21 years of Outdoor Sports Center, a sporting goods store on Route 7. "It will make it easier for commercial traffic coming from (Interstate) 84 and (Interstate) 95 to go through town. We're just a little town. Let's all just slow down and be patient."

For the more than 50 years Super 7 has been debated, Wilton has long been considered the epicenter of opposition.  But the response of Wilton business owners to a proposed bill that would put the long-stalled super highway back in the state's long-term plans suggests the issue is as divisive in the town as it is throughout the rest of Fairfield County.

"There's a 50-50 split," said Stephanie Barksdale, executive director of the Wilton Chamber of Commerce. "Some people think (Super 7) is inevitable. But we don't know how they're going to pay for it and I don't think anyone wants to see their taxes increase."

Business owners in Wilton have debated whether the current $35 million widening of local Route 7, from two lanes to four, will be enough to eliminate the need for a Super 7, while others question whether a highway between Norwalk and Danbury would be effective, Barksdale said.  "We just won't know until it gets built - if it ever gets built," she said.  Property for the highway has already been purchased by the state Department of Transportation, but it remains unused because of the opposition.

DOT officials said recently that Super 7 is not part of their long-term plans, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell said it couldn't happen unless there was a consensus from all the municipalities affected by the highway.  The South Western Regional Planning Agency lists the project as an "unfunded need." 

A bill proposed by state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, is gaining momentum for the pro-Super 7 argument. It was initially dismissed by opponents as "dead on arrival," but a rally organized by Duff last week was attended by more than 150 people and his bill will get a public hearing with the legislature's Transportation Committee later this week.  "The opposition is clearly a small vocal minority," Duff said. Super 7 "would only enhance businesses. The plan is purely common sense."

Duff supports Super 7 because there is no major north-south highway in lower Fairfield County. Delaying the project, he says, creates more traffic and hurts businesses in the corridor.  David Ceponis, owner of Ceponis Financial Group, a financial management firm in Wilton, said Super 7 will happen, though probably not soon because money is already being spent to widen the road.  "In my mind, it was shortsighted of Wilton and Ridgefield" to oppose Super 7 years ago, Ceponis said.  Ceponis said he understands why some residents would object, but he said Super 7 would run next to his house in Ridgefield and he supports the project.  "Sometimes you just have to make a sacrifice for the greater good," he said.

State Rep. Antoinetta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, an opponent of Duff's bill, said it is the highway's supporters who aren't considering the greater good for the region. Runoff from the highway could have damaging environmental effects, while the highway would only attract traffic to the corridor, Boucher said.  Instead, Duff and the bill's supporters should focus on the current Route 7 widening and improving the Danbury branch rail line of Metro-North Railroad, she said.  David Tortorelli, owner of Dermage Aesthetic Center & Spa, said the Super 7 debate is fruitless. 

"The time for that has come and gone," Tortorelli said. The widening project is "safest and will bring more business in to us." A superhighway could end up hurting small businesses because it would move cars away from the town at a high speed, Tortorelli added.

The Super 7 also would change the character of the town, said Don Pastorello, owner of D.P. Appraisals, a Wilton real estate appraisals firm.  "I don't see any real benefit to it," Pastorello said. "It may increase property values, but with improved accessibility, there comes an increase in crime."  Nick Allegretta, owner of Fashion Floor Covering and Tile Inc., said he is open to the idea of Super 7, but he also is eager to see how the widening of Route 7 will affect traffic.  "I'd rather see a Super 7 than all this traffic," Allegretta said. "It hurts businesses the way it is now."

Question for Wilton:  Was blocking Super 7 worth it?                    top of page
To the Editor, Norwalk Hour          February 18, 2007

Will we ever accede that the needs of the many outweigh the musings of the few?  Will we recognize that the public good outweighs parochial laments?

The discussion of Super 7 and its completion is one that needs to be had.  This time, let common sense prevail. The thought of a link from Danbury to Norwalk was a good one when first proposed all those many years ago.  To the few who blocked its construction in Wilton up to this point, a primary point must be asked:  Are you better off for having stymied this long-determined worthwhile project?  Do you really think it wise to have all that truck traffic passing along your main artery, lumbering its way up to I-84?  Even those in opposition to the project must now question their own aims. Wilton is even losing its Danbury Road retailers because the traffic along the “minor” Route 7 is so obnoxious. 

To those of you who have braved asking the question that needs to be answered, and especially to State Sen. Bob Duff, who is showing a quantum amount of needed leadership in this instance, “Bravo!”  You are hearing the majority of people who realized this much-needed artery must be built, for the good of all who would be serviced by it. 

Just consider the practical side of this equation:  All the property needed to construct the roadway has long been owed by the State to do this project.  That alone is incentive to see it through.  But let us employ the common sense this project used to create it.  We need Super 7 completed just as soon as we can.  And while we’re at it, let the clover leaf at the Merritt Parkway be done as well.  Just who is the Merritt Parkway Conservancy to deny the completion of that improvement? Common sense isn’t so common, is it?  Let the light of day see these related projects through to completion, with the haste of good judgment for all. 
Winthrop Baum, President East Norwalk Business Association

Super 7 offers minimal benefit to Norwalk citizens                        top of page
The Hour   (
To the Editor) February 17, 2007
Dear Bob,
I am sorry I interrupted your evening last night with my phone call regarding the completion of super 7.  You are right in saying that you are not going to change my mind, because I think it an ill conceived venue at this time.  I would like you to consider the realities of the project:

1.  Over and above the cost of buying properties and building the road, there are groups and local governments that oppose the program and will fight it in courts, costing the state additional time and money. 

2.  The benefits to citizens of Norwalk is minimal.  It is true that some local businesses and landlord would benefit, but relating that to the cost of the project, the amount is insignificant.  

3.  The additional pressure it will place on I-95 will be significant, creating a more congested environment, hazards for school buses and parents who transfer children to schools in Norwalk and the surround private schools in the adjoining towns.

4.  The prospect of the Super 7 ever coming to fruition is very low.  Therefore, I think you could be spending your time and energy on other projects.

If you could spend your time trying to obtain money for improving education in Norwalk, the property values would rise and Norwalk would attract the very people who are moving further up the Route 7 corridor.

So please, Bob, consider the interests of your voting citizens who vote for you rather than the interests of people who arrive at 8:30 a.m. and go away from Norwalk at 5 p.m. and the business interests who attract them.  Convince those businesses that if you invested your time in making Norwalk a better place, that they, too, would benefit in the long run…a win-win situation.
Dave Forslund, Norwalk

‘Super 7’ debate heading to capital                                                 top of page
Norwalk Hour, February 16, 2007    
by Patrick R. Linsey

Area lawmakers will take the “Super 7” debate on the road Wednesday to a hearing of the state legislature’s Transportation Committee in Hartford.

The largely dormant issue of a four-lane highway linking Norwalk to Danbury ahs been revived by state Sen. Bob Duff, D-25, who last month introduced a bill to move the project forward. 

At some time after the hearing, the Transportation Committee will vote whether to send Duff’s bill to the full legislature.  The bill has drawn cheers from officials in Norwalk – a city that has added millions of square feet of office space in recent years –and jeers from Wilton – where leaders advocate widening the existing Route 7 over a new highway through the town. 

Both sides of the debate are collecting written testimony for the committee.  Wilton First Selectman William Brennan will make the drive north to voice h is opposition.

“Resurrecting Super 7 is not the answer.  It is not a solution for the future,” Brennan said in testimony posted on Wilton’s town Web site.  “Consistent with the governor’s transportation plan, finishing the widening of Route 7 and improving rail service on the Metro North line.”

But Duff has called the widening a waste of money and said improvements to Metro-North’s Danbury spur should accompany the new highway.  Last Sunday Duff held a rally at which he urged residents to attend the hearing or submit written testimony to the committee. 

“To have all those people come out to the rally, it’s an extremely important message that we send,” Duff said.  “There’s still a lot of support here in Norwalk and surrounding communities for Super 7.”  Not testifying at the hearing will be one of Super 7’s most vocal critics. That is because state Rep. Toni Boucher, R-143 is herself a member of the Transportation Committee. 

“I will be asking questions of both supporters and opponents,” Boucher said.  “It’ll be a pleasure to do so.”  And while she has decried Super 7 as a fiscal, environmental and public health menace, Boucher said she will listen to all sides at the hearing. 

“I do have a reputation for having an open mind,” Boucher said.  “But in this case, if anything the time and delays over the years have only made this project less feasible.”  Super 7 has been on the books for more than 50 years, and the land to build the highway is owned by the state.  But myriad delays, and in recent years stiff opposition from Wilton, have stalled the project.

Route 7 currently exists as a two-lane thoroughfare, prone to congestion in morning and evening rush hours.  The construction of office space in Norwalk has intensified the problem, business leaders in the city say.  Duff’s bill would require the state Department of Transportation to produce a timeline for completing the highway.  The Transportation Committee must decide whether to advance it to the full legislature before March 19. 

Also on the Transportation Committee is an ardent Super 7 supporter, state Rep. Chris Perone, D-137.  Perone said an ever-congested Route 7 is doing more damage to the environment than would a new highway.  “I think there is a real desire to see this explored more than it’s been,” Perone said.  “I think it’s been languishing…and (February) 21 will be an opportunity for people to make their case for or against it.” 

Super 7 would only add to area's traffic congestion                         top of page
The Hour    (letters to the editor) February 16, 2007
The answer to easing congestion is not in adding another expressway.  Expressways only change driving patterns and create new traffic congestion in unexpected locations.  Norwalk has continued to add office space in order to increase its tax base and wants to continue to expand its commercial base by adding more and more commercial and retail space at the expense of the surrounding neighbors.  Perhaps Norwalk should become more aggressive in mandating affordable housing and housing that is affordable for those who have modest incomes. 

What is needed in southwestern Connecticut is a coordinated public transportation system that facilitates a reduction of automobile traffic.  What is needed is a high-speed Metro-North line between Danbury and Norwalk/Grand Central.  Stamford did not become the office center of choice between I-95 went through it but because Metro-North has extensive service to the city. Their answer to traffic is better rail transit and long-term parking.

The state spends an unbelievable amount of money on roads at t a cost that is very high.  The current widening of Route 7 is resulting in the destruction of beautiful landscapes and adding concrete roads in what was pristine countryside.  The bridge at the intersection of Route 7 and the road to Ridgefield is being widened from four to six lanes.  The cost of that “small” construction project could have paid for several rail cars that carry more than 1,000 people at a time, not one person in a car.

What Super 7 will do is reduce the amount of traffic on I-684 and I-84, bringing additional traffic through rural Connecticut. 

I find it of interest that rep. Bob Duff is a big proponent of saving the Sound.  I guess that is important for Norwalk and Darien, so it makes sense to be “politically correct” when you are seeking votes in Norwalk and Darien.  Bob Duff does not care about the added pollution to southern Fairfield country, the added noise and congestion to the more rural communities. 

In addition to the cars are trucks.  Super 7 would become a truckers’ delight, being able to take a shortcut off of I-95, so they are the real beneficiaries. 

Of special interest to me is that Bob Duff is a licensed real estate agent in a well established office.  Perhaps his motives are a little honorable than he would us all to believe.

Who attended the Super 7 rally?  A whopping 120.  Doesn’t sound like it was such a great outpouring.  Most probably they were road contractors, surveyors, the concrete material suppliers, the real estate agencies, the truckers and bus companies and a few anti-super 7 People.
Terry Lallak, Wilton   

Wilton is not only town opposed to Super 7 highway                      top of page
To the Editor (Norwalk Hour):                  February 13, 2007

A recent article in the Stamford Advocate states the “Super 7 highway…has been stalled for more than 50 years because of opposition and Wilton residents,” insinuating that, of all the towns to be affected by this, only Wilton opposes its construction.

Of the towns affected – Norwalk, Wilton, Ridgefield, Redding and Danbury – only Norwalk is in favor of this behemoth. All of the other towns, four out of five, are not only not in favor but have actively participated in its removal from local plans, regional policy and state consideration.

What this unified and stake-holder-majority sees is a project that will, as stated on the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials’ Web site – “negative(ly) impact…the adjacent quality of life, both residential and natural,” “induce sprawl development along the corridor and to the north, which violates…Smart Growth” and significantly increase traffic on I-95 by absorb(ing) a newly concentrated and expanded a.m. peak period traffic flow that would enter southbound from the new Route 7 Expressway.

These are but a few of the reasons why every town but one has not just taken Super 7 off its radar; they have taken action against it.

And what of the environmentalists, the other co-conspirator? I don’t’ see the “invalidation of the Environmental Impact Statement justifying the project” as being caused by environmentalists. I see a plan so flawed and environmentally damaging that an agency, fraught with lawsuits by true environmentalists, could see the potential damage and nullified it before it faced a series of lawsuits.

It’s amazing to me how the ideal of objectivity has been ignored, how the concept of reporting has digressed to thinly veiled editorialization. I call on staff to be objective and complete in its reporting and tenor.

I call on state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, not to try and revive a dead horse, one that will create more traffic and pollution and is antithetical to Smart Growth. I would ask Sen. Duff to forgo these tired, archaic means and support options that would work to improve public transportation vis-à-vis electrification and improvement of the Danbury rail line, adding rapid bus transit along the corridor, and improving the stations, making access and parking viable. These plans would go a long way toward opening the corridor and bringing economic vitality to all towns along the corridor; without the negatives.
Al Alper, Wilton
The writer is vice chairman of the South Western Regional Planning Agency.
This letter also appeared in the February 11, 2007 Norwalk Advocate.

Spirits high at rally backing Super 7                          top of page
By Tim Stelloh, Special Correspondent       February 12, 2007
NORWALK - The music at a Super 7 expressway rally yesterday said it all.
A packed conference room at the Hilton Garden Inn heard "Eye of the Tiger," "We Will Rock You," "Chariots of Fire" and other rousing songs before and after lawmakers, government officials and other supporters of the expressway pitched their plan to extend the Route 7 connector from Norwalk to Danbury at Interstate 84.

The rally drew a crowd of at least 120, according to Mary Pugh, who helped state Rep. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, organize the event. It was held to drum up support for legislation Duff introduced last month to complete the expressway. The bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Transportation.

The expressway plan has been on the table since the 1950s - the state already purchased most of the land required to build it - but opposition from some communities between Norwalk and Danbury has stalled the project and made it a political lightning rod.

Opponents say the expressway would increase traffic and damage the environment.  One of the staunchest critics, state Rep. Antoinette "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, a Transportation Committee member, said opponents of the expressway "didn't want to show up at the rally because they didn't want to add credibility to it."  "They are saving their comments for the official record at the public hearing before the legislature in Hartford," scheduled for next week, Boucher said.

The road would cut through the heart of Wilton and parts of Ridgefield and Redding, and residents vehemently oppose it, Boucher said. Several towns in the Housatonic Valley also oppose it, she said.

The road "would destroy everything in its path" and threaten the Norwalk watershed and Weir Farm, the only national park in Connecticut, Boucher said.

"We will have to think long and hard about a proposal that is just not supported and will be fought," she said. "The money for this is gone; it has been reappropriated to other projects. The feasibility of this is not there at this time."State. Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, also a Transportation Committee member, said in a telephone interview that Duff's bill will not even be considered because "there is no room to consider a new highway."  "Transit is in your future," Nickerson said. "Highways are not in your future." 

But supporters who spoke at the rally said building Super 7 should not preclude supporting mass transit.  "You need mass transit and Super 7," Duff said.  Many of those who spoke said the expressway should transcend politics because it is a "people issue" and an "economic issue," and not a Republican or Democratic one, as Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia put it. 

Duff put the price tag at $1 billion to complete the expressway and said most of the cost would be picked up by the federal government.  But in an interview after the rally, state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, also a member of the Transportation Committee and a supporter of the expressway, said it is difficult to pinpoint how much it will cost to complete the road.  "The last time they had a real cost estimate was several years ago, and road construction costs have gone up tremendously," McDonald said.

Even so, those who attended the rally appeared energized.  Kevin Roeder, 45, said his parents' home in Wilton was seized in January 1971 through eminent domain to make room for the expressway that was never built. "I've had enough," said Roeder, who now lives in Norwalk. "If they had built the Super 7 like they were supposed to, our transportation problems would have been solved."

Duff drums up support for ‘’Super’ highway                              top of page
By Patrick R. Linsey, Hour Staff Writer      The Hour      February 12, 2007
Norwalk – a crowd of approximately 200 people packed a conference room on the Norwalk-Wilton border Sunday afternoon; to support a highway project htat has formed a political rift between lawmakers from the city and those from its neighbor to the north. 

Myriad local officials spoke in favor of “Super 7” – a four-lane limited access highway proposed to link Norwalk to Danbury.  The rally at Norwalk’s Hilton Garden Inn was organized by state Sen. Bob Duff, D-25.

Among the bipartisan crew drawing cheers and applause were Democratic state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Republican Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-142, state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-27, state Reps. Chris Perrone, D-137, and Bruce Morris, D-140, Greater Norwalk Ch amber of Commerce President Edward Musante, former Norwalk Major Alex Knopp and Republican Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss. 

State Rep. Toni Boucher, a Super 7 opponent, expressed surprise at Blumenthal’s attendance.  “Well obviously the Democrats called in all t heir friends,” she said dryly.

Lawmakers and officials noted that the highway has been planned since the Eisenhower Administration – longer than most have been alive. 

“This is a grass roots effort,” Duff said.  “We need to be the loud majority and get away from being the silent majority on this issue.  This has obviously been on the drawing board of 50 years, and we need to finish Super 7 once and for all.

Route 7 currently runs from Wilton to Danbury as a largely twin lane road.  A multi-million dollar project is underway to widen portions of the shop-lined thoroughfare, which is prone to traffic congestion, especially at rush hour.  Duff has called the widening a waste of money. 

“How many of you have sat on Route 7 behind a back-up of idling trucks?” Moccia asked.  “My previous life before I was major I was a state marshal so I had to be  on the road a lot.  And the hardest rrip I had to make many times was when I had to get to Danbury or Ridgefield.”

McDonald said Super 7 is needed not just be Norwalk and Stamford, but by the whole state.

But many lawmakers said officials in the towns through which Super 7 would run – Wilton, Ridgefield, and Redding – oppose the project.  And, while not sporting matching t-shirts Sunday, they have successfully stalled the highway for half a decade, citing environmental, budget, and quality of life concerns.  Among the most vocal are Wilton First Selectman William Brennan and Boucher.

“If I lived in any other city, Stamford, or Norwalk or whatever, I would feel the same,” Boucher said.  “We have destroyed Connecticut enough with the damage from highways.  We don’t need to do any more of it.”  The Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials withdrew its support for the project in 1995, citing excessive delays and environmental concerns.

But Cafero said Super 7 opponents are being unrealistic. “We’re not going to take the excuses anymore.  In my office I have a (framed picture) of a tree.  This was given to me by a Wilton resident.  I was told that it was because of the historic nature, the environmental significance of this tree that Route 7 could not be built;“ Cafero said.  “I ain’t buying it.  But I keep that picture in my office as a constant reminder of the kind of opposition that will always be brought up on this issue. 

Blumenthal recalled going to court as a United States Attorney in 198, defending the federal government in a lawsuit over the planned highway.  Boucher predicted the project would face lengthy legal delays if resurrected today, though Blumenthal disagreed.

“The state legislature could approve the project in a way that prevents endless and sometimes unfounded challenges.” Blumenthal said. “The courts have considered and reconsidered many of the issues and the legislature has the authority to send the message – “Let’s get it done.”

Among the Super 7 supporters was a Wilton couple, Lew and Marie Rose.  While they think the highway could ease traffic on the town’s back roads, Lew said opposition to the project may again prove too great.

“If you’re in Hartford and you’re from some other part of the sate, you might say “Yeah, it’s a good idea, but if all we’re going to do is get a lot of complaints from people whoa are supposed to benefit from this, hell, we’ll build a road in some other part of the state where they’ll appreciate it,” Rose said.  “The first thing that has to be demonstrated is that the people here want it.” 

Duff to lead rally for Super 7                                            top of page
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer       February 7, 2007      Norwalk Advocate

The idea of an expressway connecting Norwalk to Danbury can be described by state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, in one word: Super.

On Sunday, Duff will hold a rally in Norwalk to drum up support for the Super 7 highway, which has been stalled for more than 50 years because of opposition from environmentalists and Wilton residents.  Duff, who proposed a bill this year calling for a timeline requiring the state Department of Transportation to complete the highway, said the rally will boost supporters and send a message to state leaders about the importance of Super 7. 

"We want to tell people how to get involved in the process because to have them involved sends a very powerful message," Duff said. "We really need to get Route 7 going again, so we want to get people excited."  The rally, dubbed "Make Route 7 Super!" is scheduled for 3 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Hilton Garden Inn, 560 Main Ave., Norwalk.

Opponents of Duff's bill are skeptical about its chances this year, but others have said the legislature's Transportation Committee will hear testimony about Super 7 at a public hearing later this month.  At the rally, Duff plans to tell supporters how they can submit testimony and encourage them to hand out fliers and write letters to the media and elected officials. 

The Route 7 expressway now runs from Norwalk nearly to the Wilton border, where it stops and becomes a local road.  The state acquired property to continue building the expressway, which would connect to Interstate 84 in Danbury, but the work was never completed because of mounting opposition.  For now, the DOT is spending $35 million to widen local Route 7 from two lanes to four in Wilton.

The agency also is studying ways to improve the Danbury branch line of Metro-North Railroad.  Until there is more support from towns along Super 7, the project will not be in the state's long-term plans, DOT officials and Gov. M. Jodi Rell have said.

State Rep. Antoinetta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, a longtime opponent of Super 7 and a member of the Transportation Committee, could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.  

Sen. Duff to hold rally for ‘Super’ Route 7 plan                    top of page
Patarick Linsey     Norwalk Hour        2/7/7

Despite criticism north of Norwalk’s border, state Sen. Bob Duff is continuing his drive for a four-lane, limited access highway to link Norwalk with Danbury.

Duff is organizing a rally in Norwalk Sunday to energize supporters of the long-stalled “Super” Route 7 plan.

“Wherever I go, people are so positive in talking about this and asking what they can do,” said Duff,  D-25.  “It’s an opportunity for people to come together and we can strategize a little bit.”

The one-hour event will be held at the Hilton Garden Inn on the Norwalk-Wilton border – a line that divides not only a city and a town, but also view on whether Super 7 is needed.

Norwalk officials argue the highway is vital for the region’s economy, while officials in Wilton call it unnecessary given a widening project on the existing Route 7.  Most of Route 7 from Norwalk to Danbury runs as a two-lane thoroughfare, though portions are being widened to four lanes. 

Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia said he will try to make an appearance at Duff’s rally, as will Ed Musante, president of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce.

“One of our chief problems here in keeping a prosperous economy is bringing people into Norwalk,” Musante said.  “There are more jobs in Norwalk than there are people.  We have to import labor.  We need better connectivity to the north.  The completion of Route 7 would make it much easier for people to travel to Norwalk.”

But Wilton officials have dismissed Duff’s efforts as pointless, noting that while Super 7 has been on the books for decades, there is neither money nor a plan to build it at the State Department of Transportation.  The highway is also opposed by the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials.  The HVCEO is a regional coordinating body including Ridgefield and Redding, through which Route 7 also runs. 

“I think that Bob Duff is totally unrealistic on this whole matter,” said Wilton First Selectman William Brennan.  “He’s proposing a road before we’ve even given a chance to finish the widening of the current Route 7.  We’ve only got about 25% of that completed and it’s coming along just fine.”

Last month, Duff proposed legislation that would direct the DOT to produce a timeline for completing Super 7.

Boucher, who represents Wilton, said expanded rail service will help ease congestion from Danbury to Norwalk.  An electrified Danbury line is preferable to Super 7, she said, deeming the highway “an absolutely bizarre proposal.” 

Boucher cited “a folder full of letter from her constituents, who, she said, are voicing their opposition to Super 7. 

Duff has been uncowed by criticism from the north, calling Super 7 “what’s best for the region.”  On Sunday, Duff hopes to demonstrate “how citizens can help out and how they can lobby the state legislature,” he said.  If people can spare an hour on an issue that is very important, that’s a good thing.  

Letter to editor
Super 7 opinions were those of letter writer and SWRPA             
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Norwalk Hour        February 7, 2007
Last week I submitted a letter attempting to clarify and correct some public statements made with regard to Super 7, as well as addressing the issue of a more comprehensive approach to transportation. 

While I stand by all that I wrote and believe Super 7 to be an irresponsible use of the public trust, by including my position and membership in SWRPA when signing my name, I may have led some to believe that my statements were sanctioned by and made on behalf of the organization.  While not my intention, that perception, for those who thought that, is my responsibility and for that I apologize.

The letter written and the opinions given were mind and were not meant to be representative of the agency. 

Al Alper, Wilton 

Cold weather delays Route 7 widening project in Wilton                  top of page
By Department of Transportation release
Feb 7, 2007   Wilton Bulletin
Due to the extreme cold weather predicted for the remainder of the week, construction on the Route 7 widening project will be limited.

Crews will continue to work on the widening of the Route 33 bridge. Beginning on Monday, and weather permitting, drainage installation will resume north of School Road and in the Cannondale area. As reported earlier, the entrance to the pedestrian pathway from Old Post Office Square parking lot (near Portofino’s Restaurant) to Merwin Meadows will be closed for an extended period of time.

This closure is required as bridge work continues. This area will be a major construction site, heavy machinery will be in place and the area will not be safe for pedestrian traffic. Pedestrians traveling along the path from the north will not have access to Wilton Center.

Letters to the Editor, Norwalk Advocate   February 7, 2007       top of page
To the editor:

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, does his constituents a disservice by pandering to those who still dream of a Super 7. The Advocate does further disservice to its readers by fanning not the flames, but the cold embers of hope for such a road (editorial, Jan. 27). The project is dead - D-E-A-D!

When the idea was first developed, perhaps there was some merit to the plan. Today, however, it is dead because of the expense. The last cost estimate I heard some years back started with a "b" - for "billion" - for a 19-mile highway! Who's going to fund this idea? Certainly not the federal government. The state? Get real. Connecticut has enough on its plate. Maybe Norwalk or Stamford would like to fund it.

The newspaper's commendation of Duff fails to consider the hundreds, even thousands of man hours that will now be wasted in a fruitless rehashing of the concept. Efforts would be better spent lobbying the powers that be for improved rail service between Danbury and Norwalk. With the promise of only escalating prices for gasoline, this would seem to be at least a timely issue.

No, the widening of Route 7 is not a complete answer, nor even anxiously awaited by those of us in Wilton (with the possible exception of the merchants along the route). But it's better than the undoable, financially ridiculous alternative.

There is a certain immutable law of highway construction that states that traffic volume will increase to completely fill any new lanes/roads that are made available through additional construction. We can anticipate no less with either the widened 7 or Super 7. But at least the former is approved, funded and taking place now.

Wig Sherman

Lawmaker renews calls for Super 7 4-lane highway
would go from Norwalk to Danbury                                  
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By Mark Langlois   THE NEWS-TIMES  (Danbury)         February 4, 2007

Traffic moves on Route 7 in Danbury. Connecticut already owns the 1,000 acres necessary to build a Super 7 from Danbury to Wilton. 

DANBURY -- Norwalk state Sen. Robert Duff wants to revive the idea of Super 7, a four-lane highway proposed from Norwalk to Danbury but never constructed.
This is different from the stretch of road that drivers in Danbury and Brookfield call Super 7 -- from I-84 at Exit 7, heading north into Brookfield.  Route 7 from Norwalk to Danbury is mostly a two-lane road about 16 miles long, with a couple of four-lane sections totaling 5 miles at each end. The state Department of Transportation estimates 60,000 cars use the Norwalk section every day.

Duff said Friday the state has been talking about fixing an overcrowded Route 7 for 50 years, and the traffic congestion there and on I-95 is now hurting economic development in Norwalk.

The Super 7 concept would create a whole new highway, not widen the existing road. In 1975, the cost of building it was $193 million; today the estimate is $1.4 billion. The state long ago spent roughly $33 million to buy 1,000 acres of land for the road.  The project was mired in a variety of lawsuits in the 1970s and 1980s, some having to do with historic preservation and some with environmental concerns. The state stopped working toward building the highway in the late 1990s.  "It's getting me into some trouble in some locations, but in five years in office, of all the things people talk about, (building Super 7) elicits the biggest response," Duff said. 

DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick knows the project has detractors.  "There is no clear consensus among the towns or among the legislators about this," he said. "It is not on the DOT's long-term plan."  Among fans of Super 7 is Ed Ayres of Norwalk, who frequently uses Route 7 in Wilton. "I think this road absolutely has to be done, and it will be done," he said.  "The drivers just stack up at the end of four-lane Route 7, and we can't conduct business in that area, because we can't get in and out of the local businesses."

Ayers wrote to Duff asking him to bring back the Super 7 idea. So did Barbara Quincy of Wilton, chairperson of Route 7.org, the Committee to Extend Route 7.  "Nobody likes highways, but it is a way to take some of the cars off the local roads," she said. "Route 7 is so terrible for so many people."  In Norwalk, Tad Diesel, director of economic development, said traffic congestion on Route 7 is hurting the city. He wants Super 7 to happen.

"It would give better access to the workers, and it would open better jobs to the workers," Diesel said.   Among them are the estimated 7,000 people who work near the intersection of the Merritt Parkway and Route 7 -- "20 people using the train, and another 6,980 people driving their cars," Quincy quipped.

Diesel said people in Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding might want to think about how much nicer Route 7 would be if people headed elsewhere were not driving on it.  But Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said Super 7 is just a bad idea.  "You can build more roads, but I think we all know it isn't going to solve the traffic congestion," Marconi said. "Mass transit is the way to go."

Imagine, Marconi suggested, the state spending $1 billion on the Norwalk to Danbury rail line, and fixing every problem along the way.  Add needed parking at the stations, electrify the line, renovate the stations, add a second rail line for the entire distance, and then make it free for commuters.  Spend the $1 billion over 20 years, but spend it on the train, not roads, he said.  "That will solve the congestion problems on Route 7," Marconi said.   The bill about reviving Super 7 will be given a hearing before the state Transportation Committee in Hartford later this month.

New Route 7 extension a long shot
Editorial, Norwalk Hour   January 31, 2007     
        top of page
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we are always willing to take up the cudgels for extending the Route 7 connector northward into Wilton and even beyond.  What prompts this comment is the call from state Sen. Robert Duff to revive the project, which ahs been in the works for a half-century. 

It was a project delayed by environmental concerns – real or imaginary  - all of which were met, at least in the portion that now exists to Grist Mill Road.  The state has owned the right-of-way for years, but the project fell victim to tight budgets and changing opposition in the towns – more particularly, in Wilton.

State Rep. Toni Boucher has been running an opposition to a new Route 7 every two years.

In its place we have seen a project to widen certain stretches of the old Route 7, a solution that really isn’t one.  At best, the old Route 7 will gradually take on the appearance of the Post Road, lined with commercial development and with frequent “left turn” center lanes, vulnerable to accidents.

In the early ‘60s, The Hour ran a five-part series on the road, approaching it town by town.  At that time, each town selectman favored the highway as necessary to remove the glut of traffic from what was then a two-lane road.  All saw it as a boon, not an unnecessary project.

Of course, circumstances change, and so do people.  Many of the opponents are long gone from the area, and town officials have been replaced.  Still, we feel there is support among some Wiltonians for the highway.

A member of the South Western Regional Planning Agency in a letter to the editor of The Hour, says SWRPA never supported the highway.  That may be true today, but that was not always the case – it did have support in some SWRPA quarters.

The federal government has largely dropped out of the highway business – except for a “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska – so the prospects for Route 7 are not bright.  We commend Senator Duff, however for putting the project back on the table, with the Transportation Committee chairman promising at least a hearing on the highway.  In the meantime, all we can do is envy those residents to the east of us who have a splendid highway north called Route 8. 

Super 7 just another problem for Norwalk       Norwalk Hour, January 31, 2007
To the Editor:                                           
        top of page
I can remember a Norwalk without a SUPER BIG POWER PLANT.  The harbor was beautiful.

I can remember Norwalk without SUPER 7.  Quiet, remember how quiet it was.  We, as Norwalkers, have taken many big hits to our town in the past.  I can remember seeing plans for an airport that was to be built covering the entire Norwalk Island group. 

Believe it.  They were going to do it. 

Fortunately due to the Association to save the Norwalk Islands, founded by many true Nor0awlkers including my father, Don Soper, this atrocity was stopped. 

We as Norwalkers could certainly live without Super 7.  Can Wiltonians say that?  What if we cover it with dirt and turn it into a park.  Why not? 

We need another golf course more than Suepr 7.  They don’t want it, right!  How about a toll for out of towners to help cover the cost of educating the children of allt he low income families in Norwalk whose parents clean the homes of the wealthy in neighboring towns.  Why not!

How about higher energy bills for them, too, for lowering our property values with their high tension towers and Super 7. And to Al Alper.  What if Super 7 had started in Wilton?  Would it be best for the region to not allow it to extend through Norwalk?  In full support of Bob Duff and Norwalk.
     Wayne Soper, Norwalk

Editorial - Norwalk Advocate                                      top of page
Super 7 belongs on lawmakers' agenda        January 27, 2007

Practical or not, the early defeatism - though some would say realism - greeting a proposal to move forward on the Super 7 expressway is disheartening.

Legislators who say it can't be done, at least this year, should reconsider their thinking and see if progress can be made. It's a project we need in order to help alleviate the clogged arteries that bring our region to a halt every day, making it hard for employees to get to work and for businesses to make a buck.

As usual, the person behind the initiative is state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who for some time has been the most vocal proponent of building the multi-lane highway from Norwalk to Danbury, linking interstates 95 and 84.

Mr. Duff has submitted a bill, referred to the Legislature's Transportation Committee, that would set a timeline for the Department of Transportation to complete the project, which has been delayed for so long that many have left it for dead.

Environmentalists and the town of Wilton, in particular, have blocked the plan for 50 years. But during that time, the problems it was intended to fix have grown enormously.

There's no doubt that Mr. Duff has the odds stacked against him. A spokesman for the DOT says a Super 7 "is not in the DOT's long-range plans." And the South Western Regional Planning Agency's long-term transportation plan lists it as an "unfunded need."

The Route 7 expressway now runs from Norwalk north to near the Wilton border, where it stops and becomes a local road. The state currently has settled on a $35 million compromise to widen the road from two lanes to four in Wilton, and study ways to improve the Danbury line of Metro-North Railroad. That could provide some relief, but whether it will be enough, especially in the long term, is questionable.

But Mr. Duff says the intense interest currently focused on improving transportation in our region gives the Super 7 idea a good chance of gaining support - even if others don't agree with him.

State Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, a Transportation Committee member, agrees there's great focus on improving transportation, but says it's currently directed at increasing mass transit and dealing with the lawsuit delaying construction at the Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange in Norwalk.

"Given those two items, this bill does not have legs," Mr. Nickerson told Staff Writer Lauren Klein. "This is a transit year. We don't have room or time to discuss this bill."

Others oppose Super 7 outright. State Rep. Antoinetta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, two years ago tried unsuccessfully to get the DOT to drop the Super 7 idea altogether. She says Mr. Duff's bill has no chance of passing.

That might be true - as it might be that several more years will pass before decent progress is made on building a highway adequate to the region's needs. But that's no reason to not make an attempt.

Mr. Duff is right that we need a major north-south roadway. His colleagues should make the time to listen to him.

'Finish it once and for all': Duff outlines plan for Route 7 expressway 
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer         January 24, 2007            top of page
After decades of inaction, a Norwalk legislator wants the state Department of Transportation to finish building the controversial Super 7 expressway.

In a bill referred to the legislature's Transportation Committee, state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, calls for a timeline requiring the DOT to complete the proposed super-highway connecting Norwalk to Danbury at Interstate 84.  The project has been stalled for more than 50 years because of opposition from environmentalists and Wilton residents, but Duff hopes his bill makes the state reconsider.

"This is important for the economic prosperity of this area," Duff said. "It is vital to have a major north-south roadway. We need to finish it once and for all."  The Route 7 expressway now runs from Norwalk north to near the Wilton border, where it stops and becomes a local road.

The state acquired property to continue building the expressway, but it was never completed because of mounting opposition.  The DOT has said the Super 7 project lacks funding and neither the legislature nor Gov. M. Jodi Rell have endorsed it.

For now, the DOT is spending $35 million to widen local Route 7 from two lanes to four in Wilton. The agency also is studying ways to improve the Danbury branch line of Metro-North Railroad, DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said.  "There is not a consensus in the region among citizens or municipalities - or legislators for that matter - on such a project and it is not in the DOT's long-range plans," Everhart said. "Of course, should circumstances change, the DOT will re-evaluate the project."

Super 7 is listed as an "unfunded need" in the South Western Regional Planning Agency's long-term transportation plan.  Floyd Lapp, SWRPA's executive director, said he expects Super 7 to remain listed that way when the agency drafts its next long-range plan later this year.

Because of the state's growing interest in transportation, Duff said there's "more support now for Super 7 than there's ever been before," and said the state should stop blaming its inaction on a lack of funding or support.

"It's time to stop passing the buck," Duff said. "I'm all ears to try and find ways to fund this. I'm ready to work with anyone."  Longtime opponents of Super 7 said Duff's bill is a waste of time, and some members of the transportation committee believe the proposal will die quickly.

The state's plans to widen Route 7 and improve the Danbury rail line "are the most cost-effective and environmentally least harmful things to do," said state Rep. Antoinetta "Toni" Boucher, R-Wilton, who proposed a bill that failed two years ago asking the DOT to take Super 7 off the table and use the right-of-way for open space.

Duff's "bill will not pass," Boucher said.  The bill faces too many obstacles, said state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, a Transportation Committee member. They include the state's shifting focus to mass transit and the lawsuit delaying construction at the Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange in Norwalk - a project that would connect to Super 7, Nickerson said.

"Given those two items, this bill does not have legs," he said. "This is a transit year. We don't have room or time to discuss this bill."  Even if the bill goes nowhere, Duff hopes it will remind people that a decision on Super 7 must be reached eventually.

"It's time to dust the plan off," said Duff, who will meet the transportation committee co-chairmen, state Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, and state Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, this week and ask them to make the bill a priority. "It's a subject that needs debating."

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 us."

Richard E. Elsberry

 Norwalk - Wilton, CT