Cross Highway, from Wakeman Town Farm to Bayberry Lane, is slated for new sidewalks and crosswalks, a set of pedestrian crossing beacons, drainage upgrades and more under a $990,000 package approved by the Representative Town Meeting. / Photo, Google Street View

By John Schwing

WESTPORT — The Representative Town Meeting has paved the way for construction to begin on a stretch of road that officials have described as among the most dangerous in town.

The legislative body last week gave unanimous approval to a $990,00 appropriation for the first phase of traffic and pedestrian improvements, plus infrastructure upgrades, along the Cross Highway corridor from Bayberry Lane to Wakeman Town Farm.

Planning for the Cross Highway project, which eventually will include a second phase from Wakeman Town Farm to North Avenue, began two years ago when the Board of Finance gave initial approval to $313,500 to study traffic and safety issues along the perilous stretch of roadway.

At the time, Public Works Director Peter Ratkiewich told the board there had been at least 21 motor vehicle accidents between the North Avenue and Bayberry Lane intersection in the preceding three years. “Luckily, no one has gotten killed, but we are really worried,” he said. The RTM a month later green-lighted the appropriation, which was used to hire the Tighe & Bond engineering firm to conduct the study.

Officials argued the survey was critical to solving safety issues posed by the consistently heavy traffic along the corridor, particularly generated by travel to and from four nearby schools and athletic fields.

Ratkiewich, at last Tuesday’s RTM session, asked for final approval of $990,000 to carry out the series of traffic safety and infrastructure upgrades recommended by the engineers.

The work will include constructing new sidewalks, new crosswalks at every street intersecting with Cross Highway, rapid-flashing beacons for pedestrians at the Vineyard/Woody lanes’ intersection, accessibility ramps, extensive drainage improvements, installation of new guardrails and funds to pay for police control of traffic through the construction zone.

At the same meeting, the RTM also formally endorsed the town’s acceptance of a $500,000 grant from the state’s Small Town Economic Assistance Program, which will be used to offset the town’s overall expenditures for Phase 1 of the Cross Highway project, rendering its net cost of $490,000.

The Cross Highway project has been split into two phases, the DPW director told the RTM, because the culvert channeling Deadman Brook beneath the road has become a “chokepoint” to seamless completion of the work.

The culvert has deteriorated and needs to be replaced, he said, so while a new, wider culvert is designed, officials decided to move forward with work on the segment between Bayberry Lane and Wakeman Town Farm.

After plans for the Deadman culvert are finalized, funding approval for the rest of the project between the farm and North Avenue will be sought.

Ratkiewich also reported that of the $313,500 approved for the Tighe & Bond engineering study, about $285,000 has been spent to date.

And of $121,000 approved earlier this year to design a new bridge and culvert at Deadman Brook, about $110,000 has been expended.

That brings total costs for the Cross Highway corridor project, before the $500,000 STEAP reimbursement, to  roughly $1.4 million, he said.

The full RTM gave the appropriation its unanimous approval Tuesday, with no discussion or questions, although the plans had been extensively reviewed by RTM members at earlier committee meetings.

John Schwing, the Westport Journal consulting editor, has held senior editorial and writing posts at southwestern Connecticut media outlets for four decades. Learn more about us here.