SHERMAN Residents question Route 37 closure timeline
SHERMAN — The work to stabilize a steep bank near Quaker Brook along Route 37 is several weeks overdue and residents are getting frustrated waiting for the road to reopen.
“We have been cut in half,” said Terri Hahn, president of Timber Trails, a 1,000-acre community surrounding the project.
Hahn said three mufflers have been destroyed on the detour and some of her older residents have been unable to go to doctor appointments. She also said Sherman’s economy has suffered because the southern part of the community can’t get into town.
The section of Route 37 just north of Big Trail near the New Fairfield town line was closed Sept. 6 to repair the washed out road from all of the rain this summer. It was expected to reopen by the end of September, but delays have pushed it back to rush hour on Oct. 19.
One lane of traffic will be open on Oct. 22 and 23 so the crew can replace the guide rail.
“It turned out to be bigger than we anticipated,” said David Neelands, the project engineer with the state Department of Transportation.
The project was delayed because a utility pole had to be moved and the crew had to rent an extra long excavator to reach 40 feet down to the bottom of the slope. Rain also slowed work. The biggest challenge has been the slope itself, which has an incline of about 45 degrees, Neelands said.
“Getting anything to stay in a slope like that is very difficult,” he said.
But residents have concerns about how the project is being handled.
Tim Beatty, a Sherman contractor who has been building and paving roads for 34 years, said the amount of work completed could have been done in a week and in the rain. He contends the road didn’t have to be closed and the work could have been completed with one lane open.
He said he feels those overseeing the project don’t have a sense of urgency.
“When I see what happened there, it makes my blood boil,” Beatty said. “Someone should be held accountable.”
He said the state’s reimbursement practice is flawed and doesn’t encourage the work to end early or on time.
As an emergency project, the state selects a company equipped to handle the work rather than going out to bid. Waters Construction Company, which has offices in Bridgeport and New Milford, was selected because they have the expertise and equipment to handle this type of work, Neelands said.
Though the project isn’t bid, workers are reimbursed the same way with the crew paid for their work and equipment.
Neelands said the crews are following regulations. The project is still within the $245,000 budget.
Sherman First Selectman Don Lowe also questioned the delays.
“I’ve been somewhat alarmed at the pace of the work,” he said. “This came to my office as an ‘emergency’ and I began to feel that the project wasn’t being treated with the proper emphasis.”
He acknowledged the rain but hoped crews would work overtime. Neelands said the crew is working this Saturday to meet the new deadline.
“I had hoped, since Route 37 is a major artery for not only Sherman residents but for the entire region, that longer work days and weekends would have been put in place,” Lowe said.
About 3,000 cars travel that section of Route 37 daily, according to the DOT.
Many of those cars are still attempting to travel it, even with road closure signs posted and the closure marked in Google maps.
Residents have posted their own signs stating “no outlet” and even one that said “No b.s. the road is really closed.” The state signs, though marking decreasing mileage to the closure, don’t specify the direction, which has caused trucks and cars to get stuck on the dirt roads and dead ends in the area, Beatty and Hahn said.
As Hahn was observing the work Friday, two cars had to turn around and Hahn had to offer a New York driver directions on how to get around.
Neelands said the problems arise because drivers are ignoring the signs or don’t believe them. He said he followed a tractor trailer recently that stopped at the detour sign and still drove down Route 37 instead of Route 39 as directed.
“This happens all day long,” he said.
He said the road is closed because it was unsafe to have one lane for the 400 to 500 foot stretch that’s closed. It also would have required installing a traffic signal, which would have increased the project’s cost, or people would have gotten stuck in the middle with lines of traffic backed up in both directions. Closing only one lane instead of the whole road could have also lengthened the project.
“I’m sorry it works out this way,” Neelands said.
He added that state projects have more regulations than private ones and so a private contractor might not know the whole extent of the work and why a project is being done a certain way. An example is the approval they needed from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for adding stone to the water below the slope.
“The emergency declaration gives us some leniency but it’s not a free ticket,” he said.