By Gretchen Webster
WESTPORT — A traffic safety study on Cross Highway that some residents say could save lives and others say is unnecessary, was approved unanimously Wednesday by the Board of Selectwomen.
The selectwomen approved a contract to pay engineering consultants Tighe & Bond $285,000 for a traffic study and design plan for the Cross Highway corridor where the road intersects with North Avenue and Bayberry Lane.
Over the past three years, there have been at least 21 motor vehicle accidents between the two intersections, including several T-bone crashes, town officials say.
A total appropriation of $313,500 for the project was approved earlier this month by the Representative Town Meeting. That amount includes a 10 percent contingency account, because the firm is being asked to analyze three improvement options for the corridor.
The project, which also won approval from the Board of Finance in August, has sparked discussion over whether the survey is needed for what some speakers said essentially is an enforcement and education problem.
Others said the survey should be part of a comprehensive study of all the town’s traffic issues, producing a coordinated plan to address problems townwide.
Most, however, argued the Cross Highway area is particularly dangerous, and the study is needed to find solutions as soon as possible.
The engineering firm will provide a complete traffic survey of the area, plus three options to improve safety, Public Works Director Peter Ratkewich told the selectwomen.
He listed three options under consideration for improving the intersections including: “enhanced stop control” by adding or relocating signs; installing traffic signals, or constructing traffic rotaries.
The project also includes analyzing structural support for a small bridge crossing Deadman Brook and to design a separate pedestrian bridge, because the vehicular bridge is too narrow for both pedestrians and cars, he said.
“The proposal brings this project from investigation, through analysis and design, to the preparation of documents ready to put the project out to bid,” Ratkewich said.
There have been numerous accidents at those two intersections, he said, because drivers drive too fast on Bayberry Lane and “don’t stop for the stop sign or don’t see it.”
At the North Avenue intersection, accidents result from the layout of the intersection which is “a skewed intersection where there are not adequate sight lines.”Pedestrian safety in the area is also a major concern, he said, because the intersections are near Staples High, Bedford Middle and elementary schools, and pedestrians cross the street at random locations along that portion of Cross Highway.
The project will include considering the extension of a sidewalk on the road, as well as additional pedestrian crossings.
“It’s an intensely used part of town,” agreed Selectwoman Candace Savin. “Half the schools are in the area, not to mention the Wakeman Town Farm and fields.”
Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist and journalism teacher for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman newspaper for 10 years and currently teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.