The town of Fairfield has applied for a $200,000 state grant to develop a “complete streets” plan for the Post Road in Southport, stretching along the Interstate 95 corridor from the Westport town line to Pease Avenue.
“That area was obviously designed for cars, but there’s been quite a bit of development over the years,” said Mark Barnhart, director of the Fairfield Office of Community and Economic Development. “But it’s surrounded by residential buildings, and there’s a surprising amount of pedestrian traffic in the area.”
Barnhart estimated that about a quarter of transit users walk to the train station at 400 Center St. “There’s been a lot of interest and demand in increasing access for pedestrians and other commuters who may want walk or bike there,” he said. “We want to increase mobility and create linkages to make it easier and safer to get there.”
The area represents “an important gateway into Fairfield,” he said, “and it’s just not up to standards. We want to green up the area, which is primarily asphalt now. To do that, we need to develop a cohesive and thoughtful plan.”
Barnhart said the town’s proposal “falls squarely within the state’s goals to facilitate responsible growth and transit-oriented development.”
“We believe we have the infrastructure in place,” Barnhart said. “I haven’t seen a project that’s had so much community interest and support since I started here.” He said the town’s application to the state included 20 letters of support from residents and business owners.
The application process “was the easy part,” he said. “The hard part is the work itself. Trade-offs will have to be made. It would be nice to make everybody happy, but unfortunately that’s never the case.”
While some improvements to the area have been made on a piecemeal basis, Barnhart said, an overall “complete streets” plan needs to be implemented.
Complete streets is a transportation policy and design approach that requires streets to be planned, designed, operated and maintained to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Barnhart said that sidewalks would likely be added to the area, with bike amenities and additional pedestrian signals a possibility.
“The Department of Transportation is a lot more receptive to ‘complete streets’ than it has been in the past,” he said.
Barnhart said that no local funds would be used to develop the plan, but that in-kind matches of $10,000 through the town’s engineering and police departments, as well as his office, would likely be used.
Fairfield would also like to make its Swamp Fight Monument, which is on a small triangle of land along the Post Road, more visible. The monument’s inscription notes that “the great Swamp Fight here ended the Pequot War,” a conflict between that tribe and English colonists that lasted from 1636-38. “Most people don’t even know it’s there,” Barnhart said. “Right now there’s no easy way to get to it.”
Although Barnhart was hesitant to say when the study might be commissioned, given the ongoing state budget battle, he said he hopes approval will come within a few months and the study will be completed within 12 months after that.
He also declined to say how much a safe streets plan would ultimately cost to implement; some reports have tagged it at about $7 million. Barnhart said that he didn’t think it would cost that much, but allowed that completion would take a number of years.
Should the state not provide the $200,000, Barnhart said, “We’ll look for other options.”
“We have to start somewhere. This is something we have to get done.”