RTM Meeting Recap – January 9, 2018

SHORT SUMMARY:

Disclaimer: What’s below is my interpretation of the meeting and not an official communication from the RTM or from the Town of Westport.

The RTM voted unanimously to approve the following:

  1. A $24,500 appropriation for a professional engineer to design a headwall replacement for a culvert under Canal Road in the Saugatuck Shores area,
  1. A $326,000 appropriation to purchase two Lo Pro dump trucks, and
  1. A $37,500 appropriation for the second phase of a traffic “corridor” study regarding how to improve (1) multi-modal (pedestrian/bike/vehicle) transportation from Main Street to the Westport Train station, and (2) the efficiency of traffic lights on Post Road between Route 33 (Wilton Road), and East Main Street.

The resolution regarding the NOVAtime system was tabled for another meeting, and the agenda item regarding the Greater Bridgeport Regional Recycling Interlocal Agreement was withdrawn.  (see here for more information on these issues)

DETAIL:

AGENDA ITEM #1:   $24,500 appropriation to purchase the services of a professional engineer to design a headwall replacement for a culvert under Canal Road in the Saugatuck Shores area:

APPROVEDThe RTM voted unanimously to approve an appropriation of $24,500 for an engineering plan to replace a headwall near the intersection of Canal Road and Marsh Court in the Saugatuck Shores area.  A headwall is a wall of masonry or concrete built at the outlet of a culvert, which is a type of tunnel/channel that water can flow through.  Here the culvert and the headwall need to be replaced to prevent Canal Road from eroding further.  This appropriation concerned the headwall design alone, which requires special expertise.Culvert

Pete Ratkiewich, Westport’s new Director of Public Works, explained that he would return in the near future for an appropriation for the entire construction project.  This work could begin as soon as March or as late as the end of the school year, depending on “the construction schedule.”  At least part of the road would need to be closed during this time.

AGENDA ITEM #2:   $326,000 appropriation to purchase two Lo Pro dump trucks:

APPROVEDThe RTM voted unanimously to approve an appropriation of $326,000 for the purchase of two 25,000 pound GVW medium duty dump trucks, which the town uses for plowing, construction projects, and other work.  The town planned and budgeted for this purchase in its capital forecast, and the new trucks will replace one offline truck and another truck that is still running but at the end of its useful life.  The older trucks will be sent to scrap and LoProDumpTrucksold at auction, respectively, with any proceeds going back to the same account used to purchase the new trucks.

The new dump trucks will have advanced technology that, among other things, makes them significantly more fuel efficient and environment-friendly than the trucks that they will replace.

AGENDA ITEM #3:   $37,500 appropriation for a traffic “corridor” study focused on (1)  Post Road from East Main Street to Route 33, and (2) Main Street to the area on Riverside Avenue covered by the current Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development Study.  APPROVED

The RTM voted unanimously to approve an appropriation of $37,500 for a discrete traffic “corridor” study focusing on the areas on Post Road from downtown Westport to Route 33 and then from “Main [Street] to the Train.”  WestportNow.com posted a good summary of what occurred regarding this agenda item here.Untitled design (19)

The primary goals of the study are to (1) improve crosswalks and pedestrian safety in the downtown area, (2) have the 5 traffic lights on Post Road in the downtown area up to Route 33/Wilton communicate so that drivers can go through multiple green lights at once, and (3) improve sidewalks and hopefully add bike lanes from Main Street down to the train station.  The entire study will cost $187,500, and Westport’s contribution is essentially only 10% because the $37,500 comes from pre-existing funds in an account with 50% of its funds coming from other governmental sources.

During the election, Westport residents made clear their frustration with traffic and what some deemed “useless” studies with no action.  But in my opinion, this study has the potential to be different, and here’s why:

  • RELATIONSHIPS WE CAN USE:  As former Director of Public Works, Steve Edwards, explained, the biggest problem areas in our town relate to state roads.  To ultimately fix these problems Westport must work with the State DepartmentUntitled design (20) of Transportation (“CT DOT”) because the state ultimately owns the roads and would likely fund the majority of repairs.  And as Mr. Edwards noted with respect to the CT DOT, “they don’t like us” right now because their suggestions for improvement have not always been met with open arms.  This particular corridor study has the full support of the CT DOT, and it is a good chance for all parties to work together and get the CT DOT focused on one of our more problematic traffic areas in town.
  • DATA WE CAN USE:  According to Mr. Edwards, to make changes to state roads the CT DOT requires current data from traffic studies that the CT DOT has sanctioned.  He explained that even though past studies have covered the particular traffic corridor at issue, the data isn’t sufficient because it wasn’t part of a state-sanctioned study and/or it is out of date according to the CT DOT standards.  At the finance committee meeting Mr. Edwards said that data that is only three years old can be out of date by the CT DOT’s standards.
  • POTENTIAL FOR LARGER FIXES:   As RTM member Kristin Schneeman clarified in the video below, larger fixes to intersections beyond the timing of the stoplights and crosswalks are not part of this study.  Nevertheless, the data collected in the study will include traffic at the intersection of Post Road and Route 33/Wilton Road.  This is an intersection that most residents dread, myself included.  There is a long history of attempts by the town to lay the groundwork for substantial improvements to the intersection, including efforts to acquire 1 Wilton Road.  And just because we haven’t succeeded yet doesn’t mean that doing something more comprehensive than traffic light timing isn’t possible.  For example, and simplifying the legal standard somewhat, both the state and the town have the right to acquire property to use to improve that intersection for the objectively fair value of that property to the owner.  If the data in the current corridor study demonstrates a significant need to do more than just fix the timing of the light, that data – along with a decent working relationship with the CT DOT – would be the first step towards convincing the state to truly improve an intersection that makes all of our lives more difficult.

Many expressed the opinion that something more comprehensive must be done about traffic in all parts of town.  As you can see in the video below, Jennifer Johnson, former RTM member and former co-chair of the Westport Transit Committee, and Save Westport Now co-chair Valerie Seiling Jacobs spoke eloquently and persuasively on these points, and Greens Farms Association Board member Richard Lowenstein, who serves on the Greens Farms Association Board, reminded the group that “studies are no substitute for action.”  He’s right.  But, for now, and in my opinion, approving the funds for this study seems like a good place to start.

Mr. Lowenstein also mentioned The New York Times article about how Leonia, N.J. will close 60 streets during rush hour to all drivers aside from residents and people employed there.  Their goal is to reduce congestion caused by traffic apps like Waze.  Many of our “problem spots” in Westport are on state roads – which Westport cannot close – but it will be interesting to see how Leonia’s new strategy plays out.

Click here for the link to the video footage of the entire meeting.