Everyone knows that traffic — including the Merritt Parkway — is worse than ever.
We’d give anything to go back to the good ol’ days, when traffic flowed like …
… well, anyway.
The photo above (courtesy of Anthony Dohanos) shows what happened after a washout collapsed an entire section of the southbound pavement. The Merritt was closed between Westport and Darien, with delays of up to 8 hours.
Okay. That was unusual. This is more like what we dream of:
Police Chief Foti Koskinas feels Westport drivers’ pains. He hears their pleas for a traffic cop on Riverside Avenue, at the Cribari Bridge. The Westport Police Department is on the case.
But there is another side to Westport’s traffic woes too.
Driving habits have changed dramatically during COVID, Koskinas and public safety officer Al D’Amura say. Though Westporters have returned to work, all but 1oo or so of the Saugatuck and Greens Farms train station parking spots are empty every day. Those folks drive instead.
The situation is the same at every train station from Greenwich to New Haven. That’s why I-95 and the Merritt Parkway have become parking lots.
Looking for every bit of help, drivers turn to apps like Waze. Offered an alternate route, they take it.
Which is why we see more and more backups on Riverside Avenue. As well as Wilton Road, Cross Highway, Long Lots Road — anywhere Waze says is even slightly better. It’s a problem at I-95 exits 17 and 18, and Merritt exits 41 and 42.
When William Cribari and other officers were posted at what was then called the Bridge Street Bridge, Koskinas says, they facilitated 100 to 200 vehicles to and from trains.
Traffic is no longer timed to trains, Koskinas explains. Moving traffic off the bridge in the morning, and through Riverside Avenue in the evening, sounds like a great idea.
But Waze and traffic apps would immediately sense the smoother flow — making the alternate route off I-95 even more appealing to highway drivers.
A traffic officer will immiediately take over the Riverside Avenue post made famous by William William Cribari (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)
Still — starting immediately – there will be an officer on Riverside by the bridge, in the late afternoon.
“We’ll monitor the situation, to see if it helps or hurts,” Koskinas says.
“We may find that as much as people don’t like waiting through 4 or 5 light cycles, it’s better than having 300 more cars coming through Saugatuck. We don’t know what we’ll find for sure. We’ll study it.”
That’s not the only new traffic post in town. An agent will be posted from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Post Road/Wilton Road/Riverside Avenue intersection.
Actually, it’s not “new.” As a young officer, Koskinas once manned that corner.
Facilitating traffic there impacts other lights on the Post Road. For example, waving through more cars from Wilton Road might cause more of a temporary backup through the already congested downtown area.
“We understand the importance to merchants, and everyone,” Koskinas says. As with Saugatuck, he and D’Amura will monitor the situation closely.
As for another suggestion from an “06880” reader — installation of a light at the top of I-95 eastbound Exit 18 — Koskinas says, “we fully support it. It’s come up before.” His department — in collaboration with the Board of Selectmen — will make that recommendation to the state Department of Transportation.
Sherwood Island Connector is a state road. There will be engineering studies, and budget issues. It could take a while.
So for now, you might want to get off at Exit 17. A traffic cop there will move traffic along.
Or maybe he’ll inadvertently invite other I-95 drivers to join you.
The debate over tolls on Connecticut highways is far from over.
If we ever get them — for all vehicles, trucks only, whatever — they will be the modern, E-ZPass transponder type.
They won’t look anything like the old toll booths that jammed up traffic every few miles on I-95. There was one on the Westport-Norwalk line, just west of Exit 17.
The West Haven tolls, near Exit 43.
They certainly won’t look anything like the rustic toll booths on the Merritt Parkway.
The Greenwich tollbooth, on the Merritt Parkway.
And they definitely will look nothing like the tollbooth that once stood on the east side of the Post Road bridge, in downtown Westport.
Yes, that really was a thing. The tollbooth was no longer operative, in this 1930s postcard from the collection of Jack Whittle. But at one point — decades (centuries?) earlier — people ponied up to cross the bridge.
Alert “06880” reader — and gobsmacked driver — Jaime Bairaktaris spotted this scene today on Weston Road, near the Merritt Parkway Exit 42 ramp.
(You can tell it’s the Merritt, because there’s a fairly large “No Commercial Vehicles” sign.)
Let Jaime tell the story:
The truck tried getting onto the parkway northbound, when people began to cut it off and blowing their horns. He decided to keep trying for Truck Driver of the Year award for a while. Finally he made a U-turn to go back towards town.
The good news: The state Department of Transportation is “rehabilitating” 5 miles of the Merritt Parkway — in each direction — in Westport and Fairfield. That means “upgrades” to pavements, guardrails, drainage and “historic concrete.”
Semi-good news: The work will be done “largely” at night. Lane closures will be limited to between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Really bad news: The project will last until August.
Tolls on Connecticut highways are one step closer to reality. The legislature’s Transportation Committee recently gave the “green light” to the state Department of Transportation to begin the 4-year process of planning to reintroduce the controversial devices.
Tolls were phased out over 30 years ago on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway, following a deadly accident at the Stratford turnpike plaza. New tolls would be electronic.
Toll plazas were a familiar scene on I-95 more than 30 years ago. A proposed bill would establish electronic (E-Z Pass) tolls.
In their previous incarnation, there were tollbooths on I-95 near the Westport-Norwalk border. But they were not the first in the area.
In 1806 the state General Assembly granted a charter to the Connecticut Turnpike Company. They ran the road from Fairfield to Greenwich — today known as the Post Road.
In return for keeping the thoroughfare in “good repair,” they were allowed to establish 4 turnpike gates. One was at the Saugatuck River crossing — now known as the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.
The narrow, wooden Post Road bridge, in an early 1900s postcard from Jack Whittle’s collection. Relics of the toll collection system can be seen at the bottom (east bank of the Saugatuck River.
Four-wheeled pleasure carriages drawn by 2 horses were charged 25 cents. Two-wheeled pleasure carriages drawn by one horse paid 12 cents. Each sled, sleigh, cart or wagon drawn by a horse, ox or mule was charged 10 cents.
The state granted exemptions for people traveling to attend public worship, funerals, town or freemen’s meetings; those obliged to do military duty; “persons going to and from grist mills with grists”; people living within 1 mile of the toll gates, and “farmers attending their ordinary farming business.”
However — for reasons that are unclear — those exemptions applied only to the 3 other toll gates. The Saugatuck River bridge was not included.
Astonishingly, the toll for automobiles over 150 years later was still 25 cents.
I bet that won’t be the base rate if when the new tolls are installed.
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