On a rainy morning two days before Christmas, it was encouraging to observe democracy in action as town and state politicians in a bipartisan effort met with U.S. Rep. Jim Himes. The meeting at the Connecticut Audubon Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary was to discuss threats to the public health and safety from the open borders between the I-95 service plazas and neighbors.
The northbound and southbound services plazas are being rebuilt by Project Service LLC. Residents and town officials are gravely concerned that without safety barriers, the adjacent neighborhoods, including thousands of school children, will continue to be vulnerable. Safety barriers area not part of the plans for the Fairfield plazas -- although they were for rest areas in Darien. Once again, the residents of Fairfield are being treated as second class citizens compared to other communities along the I-95 corridor.
From a historical perspective, the issue of safety barriers (referred to back then as noise barriers) dates back as early as 1995, when state Sen. Fred Lovegrove Jr. wrote in a letter to a local resident, "I have fought unsuccessfully to obtain noise barriers for various stretches of I-95 in Fairfield. I have visited these spots, and the noise is outrageous. I have introduced legislation for the projects only to be told that no funding exists."
Here we are nearly 20 years later, learning not only that barriers are not planned, despite heavier traffic, but that parking spaces for trucks at both rest areas will be increased. Is it any wonder that residents are outraged to learn that there is a very strong possibility that these rest areas will be redeveloped by late summer without barriers?
Parents of the thousands of students who attend schools near the rest areas should be concerned. Police Chief Gary MacNamara said at the meeting that safety barriers deter crime. Needless to say, the lack of barriers poses a safety threat to the adjacent schools.
One has to wonder whether it will require a tragic event in any of the surrounding schools before safety barriers are erected or whether the officials involved in the planning of these rest areas will have the foresight to consider safety barriers as a preventable measure.
In summary, the increase in traffic volume along I-95, the health risks from elevated air and noise pollution, the vulnerability and safety of school children and the possibility of unforeseen events all warrant the construction of safety barriers at the rest areas. Let us hope that the decision makers are listening.
Joseph A. Ricciotti