In the Suburbs / Temporary detour, permanent traffic
On Thursday, March 25, 2004, at approximately 7:45 p.m., a tractor-trailer tanker truck carrying home heating oil was struck from behind by a passenger car on southbound Interstate 95 near Exit 26 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. As a result of the collision, the truck slid about a hundred yards on its side and collided with the concrete Jersey barrier. The tanker ruptured, releasing over 7,000 gallons of Fuel Oil No. 2, some of which spilled onto the local street below and into storm drains and nearby tributaries.
Fortunately, both drivers were able to escape the crash with no more than minor injuries. Shortly afterwards, the oil combusted and burned at estimated temperatures of 1,800 to 2,000 degrees. About 60 firefighters from the Bridgeport Fire Department, Fairfield County Hazmat Team, and other local fire services worked for hours to fight the fire.
Before the fire could be extinguished, it melted the steel beams of the Howard Avenue overpass and destroyed much of the southbound side of the highway.
-- U.S. Department of Transportation hazardous material report
When we learned of that accident nearly eight years ago, I wondered how trucks and cars were being re-routed. Within a couple of hours, I had my answer, and it wasn't pretty.
I looked out my window at Brooklawn Avenue. Our beautiful, tree-lined boulevard was wall-to-wall cars and trucks.
The detour apparently forced vehicles up the Routes 8 and 25 connector to the Lindley Street exit near St. Vincent's Medical Center, south on Capital Avenue and then left on Brooklawn. Hundreds of cars and trucks were snaking onto Villa Avenue, a block below our house and moving slowly through stop signs and lights back onto King's Highway toward I-95 at Exit 24.
"Oh my gosh," I said to my wife, "This new bridge work will take years, and this street will never be the same."
I couldn't fathom the extent of the traffic until the next morning when the rush-hour traffic from I-95 south was suddenly in front of my house, barely moving. In those days, I was commuting to Stamford and was leaving between 6 and 6:30 a.m. That wouldn't be good enough. The traffic was hideous.
Fast forward several days, and we heard that an area had been repaired, and traffic could once again, albeit slowly, resume using I-95. I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking traffic on Brooklawn Avenue would again be normal. Wrong!
While the number of trucks and cars decreased a little over time, it was hardly enough to make a difference. And as spring, then summer arrived in our once-quiet neighborhood, I somehow knew the traffic volume was here to stay. I was right.
I'd be out walking my dogs at 5:30 in the morning, and the truck noise was almost overwhelming. When I returned from work, the noise level remained high and it wasn't only from trucks. Motorcycles joined the cacophony of noises, vehicles with inordinately loud motors chimed in and trucks, making groaning noises, chugged down Brooklawn at all hours.
Nearly eight years after the crash, Brooklawn Avenue has not recovered. When I open my windows in the summer, I can smell the fumes. Some trucks are so heavy that when they drive by, I have to be sure that the vibrations don't shake loose items hanging on the far wall of the dining room. We've already lost a valuable Seder plate and a second decorative plate.
We hardly noticed any noise when we moved into the house in 2001; when we put it on the market two years ago, one of the common complaints we heard was too much street noise.
Fortunately, our bedroom is on the other side of the house and doesn't face Brooklawn Avenue. But we can hear boulevard traffic all the time, and our dogs are berserk.
I realize I have no control over this nuisance traffic, but I asked my neighbor, state Rep. Kim Fawcett, whether we have any recourse. She said truck traffic seems to be growing out of proportion in ours and other areas.
My wife and I are concerned that potential buyers may fall in love with house, only to be put off by traffic noise. Our one hope may be New York buyers who are used to steady traffic all night long. But I'd still like to see our boulevard become a thorofare only small trucks can use.
For now, I'm taking a wait-and-see approach to see what my state representative learns and recommends. In the meantime, my only hope is that we'll sell before the spring and the noise won't be an issue. But I've accepted that Brooklawn Avenue remains the victim of a traffic pattern that never reverted to its pre-detour days.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.