Residents attend rally to support safety barriers on I-95

Groups of concerned Fairfield residents joined forces last Saturday for a rally in support of erecting safety barriers at Exit 22, where the new rest area on I-95 northbound is being built.

The rally included neighbors, public officials, members of the Sasqua Garden Club, the Birdcraft Museum and the Connecticut Audubon Society, among others, and began at 10 a.m.

Approximately 30 residents gathered at the intersection of the I-95 off-ramp for Exit 22 and Round Hill Road. They held homemade signs and waved at passing motorists, with many motorists honking their horns in support as they drove by.

This was the second rally that has been staged in support of building the barriers. The first demonstration was held May 3.

Also known as sound barriers, the safety barriers that the group hopes to get built would decrease noise, as well as light and air pollution, while also keeping the local community safe from potential threats at the rest area.

The Fairfield contingent is also lobbying for a new drainage system to be installed at the site, arguing that the current plans are inadequate and a state-of-the-art drainage system will reduce the possibility of flooding.

State Rep. Kim Fawcett said failure to construct safety barriers along the northbound project will bring dramatically substantial increases in noise pollution, deteriorating air and water quality, and aesthetic impacts to the Birdcraft Sanctuary.

Fawcett said a similar construction site in Darien abutting Selleck Woods received both safety barriers and a new drainage system, but to date the contractor, Doctors Associates/Paul Landing, has refused to make the improvements at the Fairfield location. Fawcett said the name of the contractor handling the project is Project Services.

“It’s basically because the people in Darien screamed loudly and we haven’t,” Fawcett said. “Well, that is going to change as we have the opportunity to make them change their plans.”

Fawcett said the first rally in favor of the improvements seemed to get the contractor’s attention, but the groups returned Saturday because nothing has happened to this point. She said the contractor will have to secure the approval of the Board of Directors of his company for approval.

“We want to make sure his Board of Directors are listening,” Fawcett said. “We will keep the pressure on.”

Specifically, the group is requesting that along the northbound side of I-95 between Unquowa Road and half-way to Round Hill Road there be a 20-foot safety barrier erected, along with native species plantings to mask it. The group also seeks the installation of an advanced storm water filter and drainage system on the south side of the plaza to protect the sanctuary’s wetlands, extensive wildlife and the underlying ground waters.

The Exit 22 project is part of a statewide project to rebuild all of Connecticut’s rest areas. The plazas will now feature Subway restaurants, Dunkin’ Donuts, a gas station and a convenience store. Some rest areas are set to re-open this summer, although that will not be the case in Fairfield.

In a letter to Commissioner James P. Redeker of the Connecticut Department of Transportation, Alexander R. Brash, president of the Connecticut Audubon Society, expounded on how the lack of barriers and drainage will specifically impact the Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary.

Brash wrote: The expansion and reconfiguration of the rest area/service plaza adjacent to Birdcraft Sanctuary will:

• Decrease the air quality at the sanctuary to the detriment of those visiting it, especially thousands of schoolchildren;

• Increase public safety issues, as more traveling truck drivers and others will inherently have greater unfettered access to the community;

• Irreversibly erode the public benefits which underlie the sanctuary’s creation by dramatically increasing the noise impacts —  in a nature sanctuary no less, increase the probability of water quality impacts and establish a permanent threat to the site, and

• Decrease the esthetic values of the sanctuary, especially due to increased visual impact of highway traffic.

Brash added that the improvements will result in a safer sanctuary, cleaner air, increased privacy, better views and a quieter environment.

State Rep. Brenda Kupchick sponsored a forum for residents to air their concerns about the project on June 25, at the Board of Education Conference Room. Kupchick and First Selectman Michael Tetreau were both in attendance at Saturday’s rally.

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