A Familiar Lament

This post could be written by nearly any Westporter.

It’s not unique, or even unusual. It’s simply another day in our town.

But misery loves company. So, a reader writes: 

Early this evening I sat in standstill, gridlocked rush hour traffic getting off I-95 Exit 17.

I am astounded by the number of choke points, and truly concerned about the state of things to come. With 2 large housing developments green-lighted, I can’t imagine what awaits us.

A familiar traffic map (4:15 p.m. Thursday).

Waiting to reach Saugatuck Avenue, I watched cars go straight from the left turn only lane, a truck use the left turn only lane to make a right turn, and painstakingly crawled along waiting to reach the light at Saugatuck Avenue.

This delay was not caused by construction on the I-95 bridge. Nor was it holiday weekend or summer traffic. It’s not even beach weather yet.

This is just an ordinary Wednesday.

Perhaps the situation could be improved with a “right turn only” lane constructed where the current grassy border exists. A traffic officer would be helpful, or some sort of physical barrier to prevent opportunistic lane hopping. Something, however, must be done.

The promised land? Not quite.

Reaching the light at Saugatuck Avenue was gratifying, yet only the first completed challenge in my quest to reach the Cribari Bridge.

Next I drove along Charles Street, by railroad parking and Luciano Park. It felt like I was maneuvering in a video game, as cars on either side sought to merge into the lane of traffic.

At the next green light, I had to wait. And wait. Metro-North must have deposited commuters wanting badly to come home. They obstructed the intersection as they inched themselves in position onto Charles Street. Several cycles of waiting at green lights ensued.

A driver makes a right turn on red from Railroad Place onto Charles Street, despite traffic inching forward.

Eventually, I made it through the light. Second challenge completed.

Continuing on Charles Street, I inched toward the light at the intersection of Riverside Avenue. Cars coming from the train station were backed up and inserted themselves into the intersection despite their red light.

Finally I was through.

Next, I drove on Riverside Avenue, needing to manage the cars that had availed themselves of Ketchum Street as a way to avoid the Charles Street shenanigans.

Good for them, yes. But once they entered the fray at Riverside, they backed up people waiting behind them and blocked traffic in both directions. Ah, courtesy.

Merging onto Riverside Avenue, from the Ketchum Street “shortcut.”

At last, the traffic officer by Cribari Bridge. As she waved me to turn right and cross the bridge, I felt like she had given me a Get Out of Jail Free card.

It had only taken 25 minutes to reach this point after getting off  at Exit 17. Success!

Until I reached the backup at the intersection of Bridge Street and Imperial Avenue….

44 responses to “A Familiar Lament

  1. This common lament can be applied to any number of intersections in town. Jennifer Tooker: Is there any attention being given to this?

    • This problem existed in Westport when Tooker’s parents were in in 4th grade! The same roads existed in 1920- same Post Road, same tiny, narrow Main Street. Dan will post a story like this when he’s 95 years old. Read what I have written. All I-95 traffic went down the Post Road until 1958! I remember 18 wheelers driving on the Post Road all day!

      • Jo Ann Miller

        Indeed the same roads as in 1960, five times the amount of cars. We have a problem, Ms.Tooker. And cutting ribbons wearing expensive scarfs. is not going to solve it.

  2. If more folks took the bus to the train and the train to the job, would that be as good as more traffic cops and right turn lanes…..just askin’

  3. Sounds….like our traffic conditions are approaching those in the rest of the world—say, in India.

  4. Rindy Higgins

    I totally agree. I feel like I’m in a third world country. Sometimes it takes me an hour to go from my Saugatuck home to Compo shopping center for my pilates class which starts at a certain time, otherwise a 15-20 drive. It’s hard to tell when this might happen as sometimes it’s quick, sometimes horrendous. I plan for the worse and bring a book. From 3:30-6:30 p, it would help to have more officers controlling bad mannered drivers at the intersections.

    • I’m also a Saugatuck Shores resident that is immensely concerned with the current traffic trajectory we are on. It’s maddening. We have to get better organized to address this worsening issue.

  5. John McCarthy

    Speaking of making a bad traffic situation even worse….word has it that there will be an 8-24 pre-application for reconstructing Parker Harding sent to P&Z as early as June. The plan is to remove over 40 parking spots and the vital cut-through road. Where will people park? And more germane to this post, where will all the cars that use the cut-through road go to exit the downtown area? To already strained choke points like Post Road/Myrtle and Kings Highway/Wilton Road and the downtown neighborhoods. This could be a man-made disaster in the making.

    • I echo what John has stated above and experienced the same route and travel time last Wednesday coming off exit 17 at 95.
      Creating this pinch point at Parker Harding is not only going to create more of a traffic back up but will definitely impact the retailers who will suffer from the decrease in parking spaces and congestion which will turn away potential shoppers that add to the vibrancy of downtown. This need to be addressed in a proper forum during evening hours when both residents and retailers can attend and share their concerns.

      • Matt Mandell I believe is on the committee proposing the Parker Harding plan . So maybe Matt as a RTM member ,can you tell concerned residents and store owners why removing 40 spots and taking away the cut road is a good idea for downtown traffic and the store owners?

        • John McCarthy

          This project will not help any elected official that supports it, IMHO. Someone just needs to have the courage to stop it before it goes any further. Much can be done to improve the parking and traffic flow and aesthetics without doing any harm.

          • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

            This Memorial Day let us not forget that Westport’s leaders are deployed to Ukraine to work their magic and solve the traffic congestion in Lyman. The lessons they learn will pay great dividends as they move forward to fulfill their vision for Westport.

  6. Exit 17 is like this every day! Where are our local government officials? How on earth is the area going to be redeveloped without something being done with these bottlenecks!

  7. Richard Fogel

    Tooker refuses to answer questions. I have asked her questions for over a year. No reply Perhaos we need to show up at town hall outside her office? How bout our local representatives hold a town meeting to answer constituent concerns ??

  8. Sharon Horowitz

    Thank you for writing this. The traffic has taken away the quality of life in this otherwise wonderful town. It’s also dangerous. There are multiple accidents all over the place. People race or become frustrated, tryin to get to work or an appt or to pick up a sick kid? And they don’t plan for an extra hour to sit in traffic, when it should take 10 minutes to get somewhere. Where are our govt officials ? Why are they just allowing so much development to take place ?

  9. The writer mentioned that the traffic mess was not part of any construction. Actually it was. It all stems from CTDOT shutting down one lane of I-95 northbound at exit 24. They started around 9:00 but it causes havoc for the rest of the day and everything west of there. Thursday, the Merritt had a lane closed each way bet 42 and 44, too. Like the writer, it took me about 25 minutes to go from Treadwell/Riverside to across the Cribari steel bridge. At least CTDOT did not shut down the lane at exit 24 Friday. I had traveled north at 10:30 am and 95 was good (I know I shook my head in disbelief). When I came back at 11:00 northbound heading from about 21 to 27 was moving slowly. Supposedly the Exit 24 work will be completed by June 2.

  10. Before I-95, (Connecticut Turnpike) was built, 18 wheeler trucks used the Post Road. Even trucks from Boston heading to NYC or Miami would drive through downtown. If there was an event in New Haven, like a football game, traffic would be bumper to bumper for hours through Westport. At the diner across from what’s now Regent’s Park, every day a line of trailer trucks would be parked on the side of the Post Rd. while the drivers grabbed a bite to eat, and then continue to NY through the downtown. You have it much easier now!

  11. I keep saying this is Westports worst and most under served
    problem as a town and community. “TRAFFIC” !!!
    This particular Saugatuck DISASTER has evolved as many other locations in and around town because as usual in Connecticut and mant towns and areas the local officials and state officials responsible for transportation and traffic mitigation are and have been for so long incapable of FORESIGHT when it comes to planning, engineering and implementing traffic improvements.

    Now, throw in WAZE and the problems with I 95 and it’s attempt to shave just SMALL MINUTES off of traffic commutes and the local roadway dailey detours become unbelievable in and around Westport.

    This problem should be given one of the highest priorities for changes and solutions in Connecticut and for us especially in Westport. Tooker, Westport Police & Fire, DOT, State electors and Lamont need to get off their POLITICAL ARSES! And make these traffic problems of the highest priority to secure the “quality of life” in Connecticut and our great town!

    I for one commute dailey as well as many Westporters and we are tired of the “CANTNETICUTT” attitudes and buck passing that goes on in local and state government when it comes to solving issues like this.

    Good old Uncle JOE put TRILLIONS in the infastructure passed legislation. We need as a state and a community that a lot of those funds get spent QUICKLY tackeling the traffic issues NOW !!

    SORRY for the rant, but we are drowning our future in inaction!

  12. Bobbi Essagof

    I am not a commuter but a resident of Saugatuck Shores. Lately I drive home from doing my errands in the early afternoon passing the line of cars heading in the opposite direction on route 136 that have spilled off of Exit 16 and I shudder to think what lays ahead when Hiawatha Lane Ext. and The Hamlet are built. My emergency plan is to go through Norwalk using Strawberry Hill Ave to get to the Post Road and turn right to make it to Westport!
    Not what I imagined when I moved here 34 years ago. What amazes me it that out local government has the nerve to traipse across Ukraine for a huge photo op while we waste gas and time here in the town they serve. So glad I donated happily to help our sister city. It was never intended to help Tooker and company promote themselves when they could be here trying at least to solve this nightmare we call traffic. What happened to the days of simply changing a a part of road to a one way to stop overuse. Maybe not the answer but at least it’s an idea. Wake up Town Hall, don’t let us drown in traffic.
    Also: Sorry for the RANT but thanks, Dan for a place where we can rant!

    • Thanks, Bobbi. But just to set the record straight, 100% of all donations have gone directly to help Lyman (building projects, communications equipment, police and trash trucks, bulletproof vests for frontline workers, seeds for planting). NO town or Ukraine Aid International funds were spent on the trip by the first selectwoman and police chief.

  13. Bruce Fernie SHS 1970

    There is only one solution to this serious problem. More housing, both for low, middle and high income buyers. Multi-family units and large capacity apartment blocks… more, more, more.
    Only then will the developers and land abusers be happy that they put the final period on Westports death certificate. What was once a premier creative residential community is disappearing before our eyes.

  14. India van Voorhees

    Development has been rampant here in the last 8-10 years. It feels like there have been more changes in that time period than there have been in the 50 years prior.
    What did anyone expect?
    Now they’re taking 40 parking spots away from downtown – where it’s already difficult to find one – in order to make it prettier along the river.
    The decisions are being made with money in mind (as if Westport weren’t a wealthy enough town already) and no one is paying attention to the consequences.

  15. And it’s even worse when the bridge has to be opened!

  16. Diane L Lowman

    I empathize completely. I live in the area and it’s become impossible. Just wait until Saugatuck Hamlet is complete. We will need an hour to get out of the area :(((

  17. Who will save our town? Is it to late?

    • President Eisenhower saved it. I forgot to mention that the Post Road was crowned in certain sections and trucks would slip on ice and slide off the road.

    • Around 1955, we were parked at the red light heading to town near Myrtle Avenue (sp?)in front of the church and a huge truck carrying 3 or 4 jet engines nipped the driver side taillight, veered to the left, and turned the car next to us into an accordion! Welcome to Westport before Eisenhower’s interstate highway system!

    • A tad dramatic Jane, we’ll figure this out.

  18. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    Allow me to provide some solace: By 2035 we will all be driving EV’s. EV’s do not consume energy when standing still. So you can sit in traffic and your carbon footprint will be, wait for it!!!! ZERO!!!! So this gridlock that you loathe is a transitory (weasel word alert) condition. Help is on the way – straight from DC.

  19. Living in Greens Farms, I know I have it comparatively good. (And talk about another reason for me to avoid going downtown or into Saugatuck.) But it is crazy how bad Greens Farms Road gets as people use it for a cut-through from Exit 17 to Fairfield.

    The water main work going on seemingly everywhere, hasn’t helped the traffic situation, either.

    • Sorry to say this but there are no material traffic mitigation solutions left at this point. It’s too late; we’ve overbuilt and swamped our network of arterial and collector roads.

      And we’re actually making plans to permanently close a critical road in the downtown area at this very moment – the latter is being justified with a fraudulent “traffic study” that you were billed for.

      Truthfully, we’re led by sheep; just look at that recent RTM vote on the Hamlet- only one person, one RTMer, stood up and said “no mas”. And he was bullied and pestered and pressured by a Star Wars bar scene of colleagues and other elected officials.

      So we’re cooked. To paraphrase Nancy Pelosi, “embrace the suck”.

  20. Buchroeder, I hope you are being facitous in your comments here.
    When it comes to our towns current traffic “nightmares” I as well as most others don’t give a flippin damn about my carbon footprint!
    As for hoping that our new DC Transportation wiz kid Pete Budagag will jump in and help with our traffic problems. Hold your breath while that happens and we’ll all come to your funeral!

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

  21. First Selectwoman Tooker, our police and fire chiefs, public works staff and others in Town Hall have held weekly meetings with residents in each of the nine voting districts over the last six months seeking information on what is causing the traffic problems and what can be done to improve the situation. Unfortunately, most of the bottlenecks are on state roads which require action by the state DOT. Improvements are currently being worked on to improve Post Road intersections and will be finished by September but the DOT is notoriously slow in doing very much to help towns like Westport.

    Those of you who are complaining about congestion and over development in Westport have failed to note the effect of CT State Statute 8-30g, enacted in 1989, which sets a goal that 10% of each municipality’s housing stock to qualify as “affordable” housing. If the 10% target is not met, developers may propose projects that are not subject to local zoning regulations.
    Westport has lost control of its ability to control land use in our town due to this law set by the progressives in Hartford.

    In the current legislative session in Hartford, progressives are pushing for laws that would open the door even further. Westport Planning and Zoning could lose complete control over developments along the Post Road and around the railroad stations. Rather than complaining about Town officials, those of you who are concerned should be contacting our legislators and officials in Hartford.

    • I haven’t lived in Westport since May 1975, but I coulda saved all those public officials several evenings of meetings had they asked me. The problem is too many cars and the solution is to ban all private vehicles in downtown Westport, Riverside Drive, the area surrounding the train station. Build a series of parking lots and parking garages on any land still available in strategic locations and institute a commuter bus system which would double as a shoppers’ and local workers’ bus system during the hours between the AM and PM commuter peak times. Back in 1975, my friend George Schneider and I only semi-seriously predicted that when a stop light was installed at Weston Rd and Lyons Plain Rd, life as we knew it in Westport would have ceased to exist. The last time I was in the area in 2018, I drove out to my family’s former home on Tannery Lane N. in Weston, I saw that the stop light had been installed. How long it’s been there I do not know.

      Back in the 1960s, traffic congestion was already an issue in downtown Westport and at the train station, especially in the evenings. My father decided that it was easier for me to drop him off mornings and pick him up evenings, than for him to waste time looking for an empty parking space in the train public lot. Originally, he preferred to take the 5:25 out of NYC, which was the most popular. but over a period of time he grew accustomed to a later, less crowded train where he and his friends could gather comfortably in the bar car. Whenever he did take the 5:25, I’d have to get to the station at least half an hour before the train’s arrival in order to find a parking place. Sitting there waiting for him to exit the station, I was always amazed to see so many men in business suits racing from the exit to wherever their cars were parked to beat the rush and avoid the congestion, an everynight occurrence. This was 1964-1965; my family (and I) moved to Detroit in 1966. The town officials have known for at least 60 years that with all the residential building going on in Westport and Weston, a traffic crisis was in the town’s future. I returned to Westport for a year in 1970-1971 and little had changed, except for more cars on the roads. I returned again for a couple of months in spring 1975 to work residential construction. Even more cars on the road, longer waits at stop signs, more congestion downtown, and a phenomenon I’d rarely witnessed in earlier years: rude drivers. But still no stop light at Weston Rd and Lyons Plain.

      I’m not sure what town officials did or could have done during those 60 or so years, but apparently it wasn’t enough. Maybe a building moratorium, which wouldn’t have set right among property owners with undeveloped land or local home builders. Maybe building parking garages, which probably wouldn’t have set right with the emerging environmental movement. Maybe then was the time to build a town monorail system, which would have really pissed off taxpayers, environmentalists, and anyone attempting to drive around town during its construction. Or maybe they could have provided free pogo sticks to any commuters requesting them. Hey, no carbon footprint there, plus great exercise.

      My point: there is never a “convenient” time for infrastructure construction, and whatever is done will be obsolete before it’s completed. While CT. State Statute 8-30g may have contributed a tad to the traffic congestion, this law was passed 24 years after I saw with my own 18 year old eyes that greater traffic congestion was inevitable for Westport in the future.

  22. Mark Bachmann

    The problem is that the developers and politicians responsible for this mess don’t really care how unhappy we are about it, and there doesn’t seem to be any practical way to hold them accountable. In theory, the local politicians could be voted out of office, but while I’m sure they could be doing more than they are, I don’t think they’re the main culprits.

    There seems to be a concerted effort underway in many parts of the country right now to bust up well-off communities like ours, and straining roads and other local infrastructure with over-development is an excellent way to go about it. It seems to me that state and federal bureaucrats, in partnership with builders, are the behind-the-scene actors driving much of this, and they are notoriously beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.

  23. Install license plate readers at Exits/Entrances 17, 18, 41, and 42, as well as US-1 on both sides of town.
    This is to set up a toll with funds to supplement road maintenance/traffic direction/transit.
    The system registers when a vehicle enters town.
    If the vehicle remains in town for longer than a pre-determined amount of time then the record is purged and the toll is waived.
    (This is the simplified version of the system)

    • How does that help easing the current traffic congestion?

      • Waze/Google has a setting to avoid tolls and even if the vehicles allow tolls, drivers will need to make a choice if the toll is worth the detour.
        For those who do choose the toll, the funding is used for
        transit which reduces traffic, as well as placing people at the intersections to direct traffic when automated signals obviously aren’t enough.

        We’re a little late in trying to implement the Westport Plan of Development from 1959 that basically said “traffic is going to get bad, we should do these things” and “housing is going to be a thing, we should build apartments in these places”.

  24. Hartford is in serious danger of losing the geese that lay its golden tax eggs by destroying its Fairfield County communities.

  25. Cristina Negrin

    I’ve been thinking long and hard about responding to this. Here goes. My family moved to Westport when I was 12 in 1965. Small town Mom & Pop stores, roads we could drive around for hours in High School “just driving around”. Many more homes have been built. Many Condos and Apartment buildings (just like Norwalk did back in the 60’s and 70’s) Just like Norwalk and Bport the roads were a last consideration. Now Westport has a quadruple census of autos and no where to put them. Keep on building Westport you haven’t seemed to have gotten the message yet that infostructure should be not only part of the plan but come first. Sayin’

  26. Carl Addison Swanson, Wrecker, '66.

    The problem is obvious. In 1952, when I arrived in Westport, there were 12K residents and most had one car. Skip to the mid-1960’s and you see the boom to 27K in population but mostly commuters to NYC. Now? Exact same roads, exact same population (28K) BUT many contractors coming to town and with Covid, many working out of their home. The answer? Well above my pay grade but perhaps a city manager is in order here now. We have problems we can not fix.

  27. Westport had a trolley service. My grandparents used to take it to Bridgeport. In the 1950s, some of the old tracks could be seen protruding on the Post Road. I think Dan did a story about this at one time!

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