Major one-way Bridgeport roads might go two-way

BRIDGEPORT — Contractor Anthony Stewart is doing his part to revive the East End, building the recently opened Newfield library branch for the city and the adjacent and still-under-construction Honey Locust Square private retail plaza.

But for the neighborhood where he grew up to really make a comeback, Stewart insisted this week, requires something out of his hands — making the one-way Stratford and Connecticut avenues two-way streets.

The major commercial roads run parallel through this section of town from the Interstate 95 exits at the edge of the neighborhood to the Stratford town line.

“It makes it more usable,” Stewart said, noting how drivers traveling up Stratford Avenue from the direction of Interstate 95 who pass by their destination have to then cut over to Connecticut avenue and loop back around.

“If you make a mistake somewhere, you’ve got to turn around a block to come back up the street, and that’s a big challenge here,” Stewart said.

Stewart is hardly alone. In fact community leaders for several years have been calling on city and state officials — Stratford and Connecticut avenues are collectively part of state Route 130 — to eliminate the one-way designations.

A $375,000 state-funded transportation study of the neighborhood, dubbed East End Streets, that was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, is again underway and may finally accomplish that change.

“I would love for it to be two-way,” said state Rep. Andre Baker, D-Bridgeport, whose funeral home is located on Stratford Avenue. “Businesses are better impacted when you have two-way traffic. People can come from two ways and not keep circling around.”

He also believes the change will reduce speeding.

“The East End is on the move of building back up, so we’re gonna need the traffic flow to come through,” said Keith Williams, head of the East End Revitalization Zone community organization. “It’s one of the priorities that needs to happen.”

“It’s long overdue,” said NRZ Vice-President Deborah Sims.

East End Streets is being overseen by Connecticut MetroCOG, a regional planning agency, in collaboration with City Hall and the state Department of Transportation. MetroCOG’s executive director, Matthew Fulda, said every few years the organization scrutinizes major transportation coordors in the area that have congestion and safety issues.

“Historically those two avenues were not always one-way. They had previously been two-way and converted, I believe, in the 1980s,” Fulda said.

He said MetroCOG and its consultants are well aware of the local desire to make Stratford and Connecticut avenues two-way roads.

“On the community side of things, there certainly has been an understanding these one-way couplets have been not helpful from an economic development perspective, a community building perspective, for the East End,” Fulda said. “We get into it with kind of an open mind and let the data help guide potential alternatives.”

MetroCOG was readying to launch East End Streets in March 2020 when the global coronavirus pandemic struck Connecticut and many people, at least temporarily and before the availability of vaccines, stayed home to try to prevent the illness’ spread.

And that for an extended period of time impacted traffic patterns, making it impossible for the consultants to start to analyze how Stratford and Connecticut avenues are regularly used.

“Traffic was significantly altered for a year so it made that piece of the initial data collection portion of the study very difficult,” Fulda said.

Representatives of the East End Streets project have also been obtaining residents’ input, although only the consultants showed up late last month for a hearing at the Newfield library.

But Sims said MetroCOG and its consultants have worked hard, online and in-person, to engage the community these past months.

“They’ve been all over the place. ... They’ve been to a lot of community events and activities and stuff,” she said.

Parking, bike lanes and more attractive streetscapes and lighting are also included in the study. Fulda hoped a draft final report will be available “within the next year.”

Devin Clarke, MetroCOG’s transportation planner, said the big challenge will be trying to satisfy as many stakeholders as possible — “Getting the desires of the residents while also finding something that’s acceptable to the city and the Department of Transportation in order to get everyone a final product that is acceptable and, you know, amenable to each person.”

But East End activist Ralph Ford in an interview noted the city has plenty of incentive for making the East End as attractive and accessible as possible. He noted how Stratford Avenue runs beneath Interstate 95 to Steelpointe, the harborfront redevelopment that currently boasts a Bass Pro Shops, Starbucks coffee shop, new marina and seafood restaurant, and where luxury apartments and, eventually, a hotel are planned.

Ford said a lot of work has been done there to make the roads and sidewalks more attractive and that should be continued up and through the East End.

“If they’re gonna make Steelpointe the centerpiece of the city, the gateway to it needs to be just as good,” Ford said.