State Senator John McKinney Applauds DOT Decision to Forgo North Benson Road Overpass Project

October 27, 2008

Two-year Fight Ends Well for Fairfield Residents

Hartford, CT – State Senator John McKinney (R-Fairfield) today applauded the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) decision to scrap plans to build an unsightly two-story truck stop and commuter rest area over and around the North Benson Road Exit off I-95 in Fairfield.

Consultants working with the DOT released a long-awaited report Friday on the potential viability of several proposed improvements to rest areas across Connecticut; including the controversial plan in Fairfield. As proposed, the Fairfield rest area would have consisted of a 5,000 square foot restaurant and convenience store surrounded by a sea of parking spaces built to accommodate 18-wheel tractor trailers. Upon receiving the report, the DOT announced it would not move forward with the project. The decision follows a two-year fight led by Senator McKinney, the Fairfield First Selectman’s Office, and the Town Engineering Department.

“It took far too long for the DOT to reach this decision, but they got it right in the end,” said Senator McKinney. “Had this project gone forward, it would have infringed on so much that we hold dear in Fairfield – our privacy, our natural environmental landscapes, and our quality of life. This is an important victory for our community. But, it is also a lesson. We must remain forever vigilant in our efforts to protect the things that make Fairfield such a special place in which to live and raise a family.”

Senator McKinney said that while the Fairfield overpass project was “a bad idea from start to finish,” the State still has its work cut out for itself in trying to improve transportation infrastructure and reduce the amount of truck traffic on Connecticut highways. He wrote about these issues in an August 17, 2007 Op-Ed that ran in the Fairfield Citizen-News. Please find a copy of the article below.

August 17, 2007

State Bridges Crumble While DOT Spins its Wheels in Fairfield Rest Areas (828 words)

Op-Ed by Senate Minority Leader John McKinney (R-Fairfield), ranking member on the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, regarding: DOT plans to expand rest areas in the town of Fairfield.

The State Department of Transportation (DOT) should scrap its ill-conceived plan for expanding Fairfield rest areas and get on with the more important work of making vital bridge and infrastructure repairs throughout Connecticut.

For those of you who don’t know, the DOT has proposed building an unsightly two-story truck stop over and around I-95 in Fairfield. The new rest area will consist of a 5,000 square foot restaurant and convenience store surrounded by a sea of parking spaces built to accommodate 18-wheel tractor trailers.

The purpose of this project, according to the DOT, is to help stop truckers from parking on highway exit and entrance ramps along I-95. To its credit, the DOT is right to want to improve road safety by preventing truckers from parking on these narrow entryways. But, the rest area solution is a bad idea from start to finish and speaks volumes about the department’s inability to effectively address our state’s most important transportation priorities.

The Fairfield First Selectman’s Office, police department and engineering department have all concluded that the proposed rest area will eliminate virtually all of the natural and vegetative landscape that acts as a visual screening and noise buffer for the Round Hill Rd., Papermill Rd, Hillcrest Rd, Durrell Drive and Unquowa Road neighborhoods. In fact, construction of the southbound on-ramp would directly abut several properties on Papermill Rd.

Furthermore, the proposed removal of trees will have a major impact on the Connecticut Birdcraft Audobon Museum and Sanctuary, which the State promised decades ago to protect from environmental damage due to highway impact.

The Southwestern Region Metropolitan Planning Organization also opposes the project.

But, despite the opposition, the DOT has scheduled public hearings for September and has wasted taxpayer money and state resources to move the rest area proposal forward.

Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration recently rated 151 bridges in Fairfield and New Haven counties as “structurally deficient.” Thirty-seven of those are considered “basically intolerable,” and ten need to be entirely replaced.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign believes Connecticut’s infrastructure is in even worse shape, having rated nearly a third of our state’s bridges as “deficient.”

In light of these statistics, how can the state justify using its resources to provide parking for the private trucking industry instead of funding critical repairs to our state roads and bridges? And when did we decide it was the state’s responsibility to provide parking for the private trucking industry?

Not only does the Connecticut DOT have greater priorities, but the state also has better options for preventing truckers from parking in dangerous places.

For one, the state should adopt and enforce a no-excuses, no-parking policy for all highway entrance and exit ramps and impose severe fines on violators. I will soon introduce legislation to that effect.

But most importantly, we should be looking at ways to reduce the amount of truck traffic on Connecticut roads and highways by moving more freight by way of rail and barge.

That’s why I have long supported efforts to establish a barge feeder service for the City of Bridgeport. Such a service would help reduce traffic congestion along I-95, increase road safety and mitigate air and noise pollution. The barge feeder service would also provide economic benefits to the State of Connecticut and City of Bridgeport by way of new jobs and development opportunities.

In 2003, the entire Fairfield County Caucus fought to ensure that Bridgeport would receive a competitive state grant to create a barge feeder service over New Haven. State Senator Bill Finch (D-Bridgeport) and State Representative Chris Caruso (D-Bridgeport) were among those who signed a letter in support of the Bridgeport Feeder Barge. Unfortunately, politics is now jeopardizing that important proposal. Both Sen. Finch and Rep. Caruso have rescinded their position on the issue since announcing their candidacies for mayor.

I applaud Governor Rell for taking the initiative to reorganize DOT and I support the ground breaking transportation initiatives we have passed in recent years. But the state and the DOT still have it all wrong when it comes to the trucking industry.

Our public policy on transportation should be to reduce traffic congestion, road wear and noise by getting trucks off our highways. And a key objective of our environment policy should be to improve the quality of the air we breathe by reducing pollutants like diesel fuel emissions. Expanding rest areas in Fairfield to accommodate the private trucking industry doesn’t get us closer to either of those goals.

Moreover, at a time when the entire nation is recommitting its resources to the safety and structural integrity of our roads, bridges and other long-neglected infrastructure projects, it is totally irresponsible for the state DOT to erect a massive truck stop and restaurant complex directly over one of America’s busiest highways? It just doesn’t make sense.

For all of these reasons, I will continue to work in my capacity as Minority Leader and ranking member on the transportation committee to oppose the Fairfield rest area expansion.