In 2020 at the height of the pandemic, with our five-year-old and newborn in tow, my husband and I escaped NYC for New Canaan.
It was an unsettling time for many of us, and New Canaan offered peace and community, and a school experience for our kindergartener that many at the time could only dream of. Moving here will likely go down as one of the best decisions we have made in our lives, and we have been wholeheartedly welcomed, supported, and included by the schools, our church community, parents and friends.
Yet this past September 2022, nestled in our beds at home on White Oak Shade Road near the Merritt Parkway overpass, we were woken by disturbing overnight construction by the Connecticut State Department of Transportation.
It started with tree removal, and in the following weeks and months it became blasting, excavating, rock drilling, pile driving, dropping concrete barriers, flood lights shining in our windows, and incessant beeping every Monday to Friday night 9pm to 5am, and often throughout the day as well. Most nights the work begins at 9pm with a parade of vehicles with beeping alerts full blast, and the construction noise and vibration continue with a crescendo around 3am and completion by 5am or 6am.
The house shakes from the work, and I have learned there are not enough white noise machines and earplugs in the world to keep this mother asleep in a shaking house full of her children. My husband and I both work full-time, and for us and our two small children the constant sleep disturbances are untenable and inhumane. The public timelines are vague, but the work is planned to go on until at least October 2024: two full years from start to finish next to our side yard.
In 2020 as newcomers, we quickly learned how important schools and sleep are to the New Canaan community during the debate and discussion on school start times. And I agree with all sides. Sleep deeply impacts every aspect of our health, and it is essential to every process in our bodies. In young children, sleep deprivation is associated with behavioral issues, lower capacity to learn and retain information, a propensity for weight gain, lower height outcomes, and even precocious puberty. Sleep deprivation has been found to be cruel and unusual punishment for those convicted of crimes.
So what about us?
Since September we have reached out to our neighbors, elected officials, the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, and our New Canaan Departments of Public Works and Health. We have granted live interviews to News12, shared our story in public meetings, and with our doctors. State Rep. Tom O’Dea testified on our behalf at state Senate and filmed a video press release in our driveway with his colleague, state Rep. Tracy Marra. Thanks to their efforts, and New Canaan Public Works Director Tiger Mann’s calls, the Department of Transportation recently moved its staging ground for large machines away from our side yard, but the all night work and sleep disturbances continue.
To the hundreds of New Canaan residents living along State Route 15 (Merritt Parkway), Route 106 (Old Stamford Road), Route 123 (New Norwalk Road) and Route 124 (South Avenue and Oenoke Ridge)– be warned: Based on our experience, the state can work on these “highways” anytime, and for as long as they like.
And this work extends to lead paint removal on bridges, overpasses and roadways without warning to nearby parents of small children. In the ultimate irony, the state mandates annual lead blood testing for my toddler while at the same time pulverizing (likely) lead paint off the overpass less than 20 feet away from the yard where she plays. Plumes of dust float off the bridge on any dry day. This February the DOT issued a warning to municipalities that bridge structures statewide have been raining lead paint chips. But still they did not have air monitoring during bridge paint removal until I requested it, and have not shared the results with me or the New Canaan officials as of this writing. I would suggest keeping your car windows shut and switching on your car air recirculation button when you are driving by these sites especially if you have young children.
I teach public policy and administration at the graduate level, so I understand why the state would not want to shut down commuter traffic for years on a major thoroughfare. Yet from what we can tell, nearly all of the work over the last nine months has been on the shoulder and not in the roadway. Major tree removal work last fall certainly made room for vehicles to move along the shoulder for work during the day without shutting down traffic.
So what is behind the plan to do overnight work in layers across the parkway, and across years? Could this not have been in smaller segments for shorter periods of time? And why always overnight? Daytime on weekends seems possible. Clearly traffic was a concern when planning the project, but what about air quality, noise levels and vibration, and an analysis of how the project would adversely impact the lives of the families living nearby? At least we deserved some warning and noise mitigation in the form of sound barriers or another noise attenuation system like those that were provided during Tappan Zee Bridge construction nearby in NY State.
Our family deserves fair warning, respite and remedy. As the state marches along with this initiative, it doesn’t seem to be paying attention to the affected families left in its wake.