DOT report says Exit 33 changes will have little impact on Devon

A state Department of Transportation (DOT) study released this week says changes to the I-95 Exit 33 interchange would have minimal impact on Devon businesses.

Stratford Mayor John Harkins’ staff distributed copies of the study during a press conference Tuesday in Stratford, where Harkins reaffirmed his support of the Exit 33 project. The project would add a northbound entrance and a southbound exit ramp at Exit 33 in Stratford, to make it a full interchange on I-95.

“In general, for all types of businesses in Devon, their business exposure to traffic on Bridgeport Avenue would not experience perceptible changes after the construction of the Interchange 33 project,” the DOT report states. “The potential impact on business patrons’ route choice and travel habit caused by the change of accessibility at Interchange 33 would be very limited. A significant diversion of business patrons away from Devon is not anticipated.”

While the interchange project has received support in Stratford and parts of Milford, there is a vocal contingent that opposes it. Former Speaker of the House James Amann is leading the opposition, wearing three hats, so to speak.

Amann, who disagrees with the DOT report and says the project will definitely have a negative impact on Devon businesses, said he is fighting the plan because he represented the area for many years as state representative; because he was once head of the Devon Revitalization Committee, and because he was hired by Stratford Action for the Environment (SAFE) to lobby against the proposal.

Amann said he has no doubt the project will steer business away from Devon. He remembers in the early 1990s when the Washington Bridge between Devon and Stratford was broken and stuck in the upright position for several months. He said businesses suffered.

“It almost destroyed that area,” Amann said. “We did events to get people to go down there. We  know what happens when you reroute traffic. We don’t need the DOT to tell us anything different.”

Amann, with backing from businesses like the Trefz Corp. and vice chairman Christian Trefz, maintain that creating those new ramps in Stratford will take traffic around Devon instead of through it. Trefz currently owns the McDonald’s restaurant off Exit 34, as well as several businesses along Route 1 in Devon.

“I think anybody, elected official or not, who would support this multimillion dollar boondoggle is absolutely out of their mind. It benefits one town at the expense of the other.”

State Rep. Kim Rose, who holds the 118th District legislative seat that Amann once held, along with Mayor Harkins and others in Stratford, supports the project.

Rose said she conducted an informal study in her district and found that 80% of the people who responded are in favor of the Exit 33 plan. She said she’s heard from people who think the new ramps will actually alleviate traffic tie-ups in Devon.

“I drive that area every day and I know what it’s like,” Rose said, adding that she gets calls from her constituents who live in Rivercliff and other neighborhoods complaining about the traffic that spills onto their streets because of backups.

When Rose saw the DOT report saying the project would have minimal impact, she decided it was a final reason to fully support the Exit 33 changes.

Rose attended Stratford Mayor Harkins’ press conference Tuesday. Harkins has touted the changes as a key to revitalizing business in his community. The Stratford mayor has said the expanded I-95 Interchange 33 project would lead to increased commerce and business expansion along Stratford’s Route 1 corridor.

He also suggests that further development of Ferry Boulevard/Stratford Avenue could be achieved if the project is implemented, noting that the project would also relieve traffic congestion in Stratford Center and at I-95 Exit 32 in Stratford.

Regarding Devon, the DOT study on the economic impact of the project concludes that 39 out of 65 Devon businesses serve their customers by appointment and would “be unlikely to be affected by any change in the volume of traffic on Bridgeport Avenue because their customers are mostly destination customers.”

The patrons who do not come by appointment are mostly local residents “and a relatively small portion of motorists who are passing by,” the report states.

“Most patrons (70 to 80 percent) go to local businesses on Bridgeport Avenue in Devon as their destinations, while a small number of patrons come by convenience or impulse,” the report states. “These situations would sustain in the future and the change in accessibility at Interchange 33 is unlikely to affect them.”

Milford Mayor Ben Blake, who has said he will request a DOT hearing on the project to appease opponents, said early Tuesday afternoon that he had not received a copy of the DOT report, even though he is the one who asked that the report be done.

(Stratford Star editor Melvin Mason contributed to this article.)