Regional Transportation Plan

Transportation
 
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TRAFFIC PLANNING FOR
CENTRAL NEW MILFORD, CT

PART 7: HOUSATONIC RIVER BRIDGES

1. INTRO2. DOWNTOWN 3. GROVE STREET4. BOARDMAN ROAD 5. PATRIOTS WAY
6. EAST - WEST CONNECTOR7. HOUSATONIC BRIDGES 8. TRAFFIC IMPROVEMENT

 

INTRODUCTION
Should there be an additional crossing of the Housatonic River in New Milford, to better link the east and west sides of this geographically very large and growing Town?

This key question has been raised many times in the past, and the need only grows. An important local and regional transportation planning issue, the question remains with us today.

This section of the report on Traffic planning for Central New Milford summarizes past thinking on new bridge proposals in an effort to both speed the day a decision is made and improve the quality of that decision.

There are three bridge crossings of the Housatonic River in Central New Milford. These are the Marsh Bridge on the Grove Street Corridor to the south, the central crossing near Downtown provided by Veterans Bridge carrying combined Routes 67 and 202, and to the north the Boardman Bridge on Boardman Road. All three link Route 7, which remains on the west side of the Housatonic in this part of the Town, with the east side of the community.

POLICY AGAINST ADDING LANES
On VETERANS MEMORIAL BRIDGE
Of the three bridge crossings, Veterans Bridge is the central artery and by far the most heavily utilized. It was opened to traffic in 1954 as a replacement to an earlier span. The roadway cross-section on the bridge is limited by the bridge design to two lanes.

As local residents know, traffic using the Veterans Bridge has a particularly strong relationship with Route 7 to the south. Conn DOT data shows that in the morning peak hour, for westbound Route 67 traffic crossing Veterans Bridge to Route 7, over 75% turns south onto Route 7. The reverse is the case for the afternoon traffic peak.

In 1995 this span was due for major maintenance. In an effort to examine all alternatives, Conn DOT presented a plan to the municipality to construct a new bridge with a four lane cross section, immediately south of the existing bridge, after which the aging Veterans Bridge would be removed. Rehabilitation of the existing two lane bridge was also an option.

Local reaction was strongly in favor or rehabilitation of the existing bridge. While the value of more capacity by adding two additional thru lanes was recognized by citizens at the hearing, it was felt that the presence of a wider cross section on Veterans Bridge could lead to pressure to widen the adjacent section of Bridge Street to the east. This in turn would risk marring the historic character of Bridge Street and the adjacent Downtown.

Also, there was considerable attachment to the informal landmark status of the 1954 Veterans Bridge design, with its high arching framework, entryway function and familiarity to drivers from outside of New Milford.


Conn DOT accepted these viewpoints. The option for a wider replacement bridge was withdrawn, and the substantial federal funds available for either option were programmed for the rehabilitation option.

This was an important traffic capacity decision. To the extent that more "traffic carrying capacity" for New Milford across the Housatonic River is needed, the focus after 1995 necessarily shifted away from Veterans Bridge and towards other locations.

NEW BRIDGE TO LINK
ROUTE 7 WITH BENNITT STREET
Proceeding about one third mile to the north of Veterans Bridge, a now venerable concept for an additional bridge would link Bennitt Street, running east-west at the north end of the Downtown New Milford Green, westerly across the Housatonic River to Route 7.


Excerpt from the 1959 New Milford Plan of Development where the proposed
Bennitt Street Bridge connection is the northern of two crossings,
the southern crossing is existing Bridge Street.

Study of 1968. Conn DOT made an analysis of this potential improvement back in 1968. Ending at Bennitt Street was seen as a possible terminus to the Route 7 Expressway.

The Conn DOT study stated that “Another alternate river crossing, taken under study, was based upon the 1959 New Milford plan of development which recommended a new bridge northerly of the existing Bridge Street structure, connecting on the east side of the river into Bennitt Street. Such a connection would provide additional service to New Milford Center and a connection to existing Route 202 via Elm Street. “

But the traffic concept did not receive a favorable review; “However, to accommodate anticipated traffic, it would have been necessary to widen Bennett Street and Elm Street, resulting in a high impact on adjoining developed properties.

To attain acceptable grades for roadway, the reconstruction of the Railroad Street-Bennett Street intersection would also have been necessary, increasing the displacement of commercial and residential properties."

Although officials in New Milford had considered this river crossing previously as a part of the 1959 New Milford Plan of Development, in 1968 they objected to such a crossing as a part of the State highway system, mainly because of the high displacement of properties.

It was pointed out that the connection from the west side of the river to Bennitt Street would add considerably more traffic to Elm Street which has a steep grade and is fronted by two churches, a school and the New Milford Hospital, meaning that any proposal for the widening of Elm Street would be very strongly objected to locally.

Study of Early 1970's. But then a few years later, a new bridge to Bennitt Street was included in a seventies era Conn DOT Route 7 Expressway construction alternative as a feeder/distributor to the proposed Expressway, which had its own new crossing to the north to reach the Eastern Segment of the East-West Connector. This was the State's "two new bridges for New Milford" option. But it did not survive further review.

Study of a potential crossing at Bennett Street then remained dormant for many years. This is due largely to the fact that between 1972 and 1991, New Milford was expecting a new Housatonic River bridge crossing as part of the Route 7 Expressway construction plan. That nearby proposal took the pressure off of the Bennett Street Bridge idea.




Bennitt Street looking west towards proposed
new bridge site over the Housatonic River

Study of 1998. The concept was revived by the Town in the late 1990's. In 1998 New Milford requested that HVCEO undertake a traffic study to examine the feasibility of constructing a new Housatonic River crossing from Route 7 to Bennitt Street. The resultant study become HVCEO Bulletin #96 completed in 1998.

As with past efforts this study noted that the intent of such a new crossing would be to relieve traffic in the Downtown and especially on the Bridge Street section of Route 202.

It was understood from the outset of the analysis that a new parallel bridge would not result in any traffic being removed from New Milford’s roadways. Rather, that there might be some beneficial shifts and redistribution of traffic within the Downtown Area.

The river span evaluated would cross the Housatonic easterly from Route 7 north of Bridge Street, passing over Youngs Field Road and the railroad tracks, to terminate at the Railroad Street and Bennitt Street intersection. This was identical to the 1959 Town Plan concept for such a parallel linkage.

The crossing would have an overall length of 1920 feet, consisting of about 800 feet over the flood plain on the west side of the Housatonic, 400 feet over the River itself and 720 feet to the east linking up with Bennitt Street. For comparison, the existing steel arch bridge on Bridge Street is built on abutments with a shorter span of 350 feet.


Visualizations from 1998 study of proposed Bennitt Street Bridge.

The width of the Bennitt Street Bridge would be 24 feet. It would carry two lanes of traffic, with five foot side sidewalks provided on each side. A 23 foot clearance over the railroad tracks was part of the design.

This late nineties "fresh look" at the old idea found that the greatest impact of the proposed bridge would be the creation of a new arterial route and increased traffic along Bennitt Street and Elm Street. Also, that due to the current relatively low volumes there, additional traffic would be perceived as a disadvantage.

On the positive side, the study did find that the overall level of traffic service at the Route 202 and Railroad Street intersection would improve slightly, along with some traffic reductions on both Railroad Street and Main Street.

But overall, the study concluded that while Bridge Street (combined Routes 67&202) volumes would be somewhat reduced, due to the existing high volumes of traffic there, the reduction would not result in a noticeable improvement.

The study projected that the morning peak hour traffic use of the new Bennitt Street Bridge span would be 262 vehicles, all diverted from Bridge Street. With the proposed new bridge costing at least ten million dollars, cost benefit for this limited magnitude of traffic diversion was not seen by the report as strongly favorable.


ROUTE 7 EXPRESSWAY AS
NEW CROSSING OF RIVER

As noted above, from 1972 to 1991 a fourth river crossing in Central New Milford was part of the official Conn DOT traffic plan for the Town. This was to be in the form of a the new Route 7 Expressway, to cross the Housatonic River north of the Downtown.

Conn DOT's Route 7 Expressway related Housatonic River
crossing plan of 1972- 1991, with dashed line showing two routing
options for the proposed Expressway to approach the new bridge.


The 1959 Town Plan saw growth and congestion coming and concluded that “A new bridge is therefore necessary and should be built sometime within the next 5 to 10 year period when traffic is expected to experience a definite bottleneck at the existing bridge.”

Evidence has already been provided that Conn DOT worked creatively with alternatives for this idea. By 1962 a Conn DOT Route 7 planning report had proposed new Housatonic River crossings.

But all were south of Bridge Street, touching down near the intersection of West Street and South Avenue, to then proceed north to end at the intersection of Routes 67 and 202. These were not accepted and all proposals for new crossing have been north of Bridge Street since that time.

A 1968 Conn DOT traffic study noted that “The third alternate river crossing would bypass the center of New Milford and continue to the north along the Aspetuck River Valley. The expressway would terminate at a proposed East - West Connector Road between existing Route 202 on the east and Aspetuck Ridge Road on the west."

The 1968 Conn DOT report concluded; “Although this alternate would bypass the center of the Town, it still would provided satisfactory service to this area, because the Bridge Street crossing would be relieved by the diversion of Route 202 traffic, and the traffic flow through the existing Route 7- Bridge Street intersection would be further reduced by the interchange northerly of this intersection which would allow direct service to existing Route 7 north.

Therefore, the northerly river crossing was considered the favorable location both by the Highway Department as well as by New Milford officials.”

At major public hearings in New Milford in 1968 and 1972, Conn DOT recommended that at the terminus of the Route 7 Expressway, a Route 202 Connector from Aspetuck Ridge Road easterly to Route 202, be an integral part of the Route 7 Expressway plan. This then remained the consistent Conn DOT plan for almost twenty years, until it was dropped in 1991.

What happened was that the planning for the Expressway, and the new Housatonic River crossing we are discussing here, continued for so long that much residential development appeared in the path of the proposed roadway. To proceed would have meant massive relocations. Elected officials in 1991 reluctantly agreed with Conn DOT that the potential disruption from Expressway construction was too great to proceed.

The current policy for Route 7 improvement in New Milford was announced by Conn DOT on 11/26/1991. It stated that “following extensive public discussion and study, state and local officials have agreed on a modified plan for improving highway travel in the Route 7 corridor between Brookfield and New Milford ...."

Continuing "as well as focusing upon the upgrading of the existing two lane roadway, this plan was also to eliminate from consideration the New Milford bypass” (italics added). This meant the new bridge over the Housatonic River as well as and state construction of the 1.1 mile Eastern Segment of the East - West Connector.

PROPOSED BRIDGE CROSSING FROM
ROUTE 7 TO ASPETUCK RIDGE ROAD

Would the addition of an new crossing of the Housatonic River serve enough traffic to have an acceptable benefit to cost ratio? This question remains to be explored before a circulation plan for Central New Milford can be finalized.

It is remembered locally that a location on the Housatonic's east bank on Housatonic Avenue several hundred feet west of the West Aspetuck River is the point where the Route 7 Expressway was originally planned to pass northward after crossing the River.

A similar new crossing point, perhaps just west of this location, to align directly north - south with Aspetuck Ridge Road, has in recent years been raised as a potential bridge crossing option.

According to the 2004 EDC consultant study "Another alignment that has been in discussion locally is the North - South connector Road concept which requires the construction of a new bridge over the housatonic River, but will be shorter in mileage between Route 7 and Route 202 in comparison to the East - West Connector Road.

This concept has been discussed in conjunction with the East - West Connector Road and the Boardman Road concepts. However, it also requires a substantial amount of roadway investment to construct a new bridge on the Housatonic River.

However, from a traffic analysis standpoint this alternative may potentially divert more traffic from Bridge Street than the East - West Connector Road due to its length."

This access would nicely serve the proposed Century Enterprise Center. However it would duplicate to some extent the roadway investment planned to reach that Center via the Western Segment of the East - West Connector and Boardman Road. These issues will need review before a final plan can be formulated.

Proceed to section eight, Directions for Traffic Improvement.

1. INTRO2. DOWNTOWN 3. GROVE STREET4. BOARDMAN ROAD 5. PATRIOTS WAY
6. EAST - WEST CONNECTOR7. HOUSATONIC BRIDGES 8. TRAFFIC IMPROVEMENT

 
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