DOT 2-Year Bridge Project Lane Closures on Rte 1 at Hillside Raise Concerns of Traffic & Life-Safety

On Tuesday town leaders met to discuss a coordinated response to the CT Dept of Transportation’s planned bridge replacement over “Greenwich Creek” at Hillside Rd and Rte 1, given traffic is already a major challenge there, especially at drop off and pick up at GHS.

Plus, the timing of the project will overlap with upcoming improvements to I-95.

P&Z commissioner Nick Macri said that after a DOT public meeting last week, residents were concerned the project would “shut down the heart of Greenwich for a while.”

Mark Dawson from the Greenwich Fire Dept Fire Marshals Division said the east-west bottleneck was a concern, given some 20,000 cars pass through that stretch daily.

Dawson said he was concerned that response times would increase during the lane closures. Specifically he had concerns about the high school, Woodside Drive and the Milbrook Club, referring to a potential nightmare.

He said he had driven the proposed detour route.

“The response time to go around on a normal day for that detour is in the 5 minute area. We try to drive for 4 minute response time for all our alarms,” he said.

He gave an example of a compromise that had been reached with Aquarion and their contractor doing a project on Taconic Road, given that South Stanwich is also closed.

He said the contractor ultimately wound up funding a fire engine with three firefighters during the work hours.

“I actually drove each one of these routes to make sure the times are correct. Some people like to use Google for their time estimates, but it’s not practical for us,” Dawson added. “We’re talking about large apparatus that are slower and we use a 35mph speed limit when we do these trials.”

P&Z chair Margarita Alban said the idea of closing I95 at the same time as lane closures on Route 1 conjured memories of the Mianus Bridge collapse on I95 in 1983.

Deputy DPW commissioner Jim Michel clarified that the I95 project would involve overnight single lane closures, and no closures during the day.

“They have strict regulations they can only close one lane at a time, and it is only between 9pm and 5am,” Mr. Michel said.

“The impact of the I-95 project on this (bridge) project should not be be significant,” Mr. Michel noted, adding that he’d had a pre-meeting with the DOT team working on the Hillside bridge.

Traffic backed up in both directions at drop off at GHS.

“I didn’t feel it was my place to jump in and give them information and (the DOT bridge team) weren’t really familiar with the 95 project,” he said. “I’m sure they went back and got in touch with the team working on the 95 project.”

“They are appreciative when we feed them this type of information,” he said.

That said, Mr. Michel pointed out that during the Rt 1 bridge project, closed lanes would not reopen at night.

“There will always be one lane open in each direction, and then they’ll flip over onto the new bridge and it will be one lane open in each direction until they get the second half of it done,” he explained.

Ms Alban was still concerned. She said just last Friday for example, traffic was “chock a block” on Rte 1 in Greenwich for people heading north.

“Greenwich is going to be at a standstill on Route 1 no matter what,” she said. “I don’t know how you get the kids in and out. And it’s not just the high school….Maybe we just close down the town?”

“I think the locals are going to use the routes they know best to get around all that,” Dawson said.

“Waze will do it for you now,” Alban said. “Everybody who tries to go north is going to be detouring all over town.”

Mr. Michel said the timeline was to start in summer of 2022 and continue for “two construction years.”

He said said fall 2022 would mainly feature miscellaneous prep work, including utility relocations for gas lines and water mains. He said the start of actual construction involving lane closures might not be until 2023.

The estimated construction cost for the bridge project is approximately $9.7 million dollars. The project is anticipated to be undertaken with 80-percent federal funds and 20-percent state funds. Construction is anticipated to begin in fall 2022 and last approximately two construction seasons.

He also said the DOT had strict guidelines that they cannot close Hillside Rd when school is in session.

“The only time they can close that section of Hillside Rd would probably be the summer of 2023,” Mr. Michel said. “They’ve stated that the work necessary on Hillside Rd is a one week time frame.”

There was discussion about the proposed second egress from Greenwich High School, which involves a curb cut, and necessitates state approval, and how that might dovetail with or work around the DOT bridge project.

“I would encourage the BOE to consider carving out that one piece, if it makes sense,” said Laura Erickson of the BET who is a former BOE member. “If there are efficiencies to be had to do that curb cut, it absolutely should be separated and considered as such.”

Mr. Michel acknowledged that getting 3,000 people into the GHS campus in 20 minutes already backs up traffic east to River Rd in Cos Cob.

“We might have to work with transportation to see if there is a way buses can take a different route into (the campus),” he said, adding routes might be reconfigured to bring traffic to the high school via Fairfield Rd.

“It’s going to be challenging,” he said.

Water from “Greenwich Creek” flowing from the GHS campus under East Putnam Avenue after Hurricane Irene. Aug 28, 2011 2011.

Still, he pointed out the work needed to be done.

The existing bridge is structurally deficient and needs to be improved and raised. Currently it does not pass major storm events, resulting in the over-topping of Rt 1.

Mr. Michel said the town had asked the DOT to make improvements for the long term longevity and ability to navigate town, and improve and raise that road so emergency access services can get east and west during flooding.

He noted that back in 2007 emergency access vehicles could not get over the bridge.

“When they first came in and talked to us they said, ‘We really can’t do anything for that flooding,’ and we said, ‘You need to,’ and they went back and sharpened their pencils and now they’re making those improvements,” Mr. Michel said. “The goal of the project is not just to cause a bunch of traffic problems. It’s to make a long term benefit to the town.”

“I think all of us who remember the Mianus (bridge on I95) collapse are clear we wouldn’t want to push back on someone replacing a bridge before it collapses,” Ms Alban said. “We get it. The idea of us getting together today is How are we going to cope?”

Anyone wishing to discuss the Bridge project project may contact Louis D. Bacho at the CT Dept of Transportation at (860) 594-3212 or by e-mail at [email protected].

More information on the bridge project is available on the DOT website here.