U.S. Route 7 (Connecticut)

The Route

US Route 7 is the main north-south artery through western New England. While segments have been upgraded to expressway in portions of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, the highway that was to link Norwalk, Connecticut with Burlington, Vermont was never constructed. Of the 313 miles the route traverses, 78 miles are within Connecticut. The two-lane route was constructed in 1928 and originally followed Connecticut Route 41 and New York Route 22 south to New York City. Around 1932 the southern end of Route 7 was moved to its pre-expressway terminus at US Route 1 and Main Avenue (Connecticut Route 719) in Norwalk.

History of U.S. Route 7

Early Expressway Plans

Early plans for an expressway in the Route 7 corridor were conceived during the planning of the Interstate Highway System during the 1940s and 1950s. The original 1944 Interstate Highway plans called for Interstate 89 to be built along US-7 from the Canadian Border south to Interstate 95 in Norwalk, Connecticut. When the maps of the future Interstate System were drawn up in 1955, I-89 was shifted to its present alignment between Burlington, Vermont and Manchester, New Hampshire. Despite this, Connecticut, Vermont, and Massachusetts continued to develop plans for an expressway from Norwalk to Burlington. This page will focus on the portion of US Route 7 in Connecticut.

Construction Starts; Lawsuits Block Progress

The Connecticut Department of Transportation began planning and design of the Route 7 Expressway (locally known as 'Super-7') during the mid-1950s. When Interstate 84 opened in 1961, it included two high-speed directional interchanges, where Super-7 would eventually tie in. In 1963, the State of Connecticut acquired over 1,000 acres of land to accommodate the future highway at a cost of $33 million. Construction on Super 7 began in Norwalk in 1969, one year before states were required to conduct environmental studies.

After the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act in 1970, environmental groups and opponents in Wilton file a lawsuit against the project. In 1972 a federal judge blocked construction of the highway north of Route 123 in Norwalk. This injunction did not affect construction of the Route 7 Expressway through Danbury and southern Brookfield, since that section was being built entirely with state funds. This portion of Super-7 from I-84 in Danbury to US Route 202 just south of Brookfield Four Corners opened in 1976.

EIS Approved, Super-7 Gets Green Light

CONNDOT and the FHWA completed the environmental impact statement (EIS) for finishing the Danbury-Norwalk section of Route 7 in 1978. After intense scrutiny, Federal Judge Gilroy M. Daley ruled the EIS as "adequate," thereby allowing construction to resume in 1980.

Work on the next section of the Route 7 Expressway began in 1984 from I-84 west of downtown Danbury south to Sleepy Hollow Road (Old Route 7) at the northern edge of Wooster Mountain State Park. Construction of this 1.5-mile segment was concurrent with construction of the new Danbury Fair Mall, since the area would see a drastic increase in traffic with the opening of the mall.

Further south, controversy over the impact of Super 7 construction on the historic Merritt Parkway delayed the extension of the highway beyond Route 123. By 1989, a compromise was reached where Route 7 would be built as a 4-lane facility using only half of the right-of-way to mitigate impacts on wetlands along the path, and minimize disruption to the Merritt Parkway. The 2.1 mile extension to Gristmill Road opened in 1992.

Fiscal Problems Doom Route 7 Expressway

After all of the legal roadblocks holding up construction of the remainder of Super 7 between Norwalk and New Milford were removed with the EIS approval in 1980, the State of Connecticut ran into a problem that would ultimately doom the proposed highway: its cost had skyrocketed to $1 billion, and neither the state or the federal government had the means to finance the highway's construction.

During the 1980s CONNDOT had planned to overcome the highway's cost problem by stretching the construction timetable over a period of 20 years. The state fell into a deep economic recession during the early 1990s due to the near-total collapse of the defense industry and the flight of residents and business due to Connecticut's astronomical taxes. The project was further jeopardized when CONNDOT was forced to divert all available highway money to repairing existing roads and bridges following the collapse of the Mianus River Bridge in 1983.

With insufficient funds to build Super 7, state and federal officials developed a $350 million plan widely regarded as a compromise in 1999. The 1999 Route 7 Upgrade Plan included the following:

  • The original expressway between Gristmill Road and Danbury Airport was cancelled.
  • Route 7 will be widened from 2 to 4 lanes between the south Danbury expressway terminus at Sleepy Hollow Road in Danbury and Route 35 in Ridgefield ($60 million).
  • The existing Route 7 will be reconstructed and widened from terminus of the Norwalk expressway section at Gristmill Road in Norwalk to Olmstead Hill Road in Wilton ($70 million).
  • The Brookfield Bypass will be constructed as originally planned ($90 million).
  • Existing Route 7 was widened to 4 lanes from the Brookfield town line to the Route 202/Route 67 intersection in New Milford ($40 million).
  • Completing the Route 7/Route 15 interchange ($90 million)
  • CONNDOT and Metro North will upgrade the Danbury Line.
  • The FHWA and CONNDOT will develop plans to widen Route 7 to 4 lanes between Olmstead Hill Road in Wilton and Route 35 in Ridgefield.

Below is the exit list for Route 7 in Connecticut. Orange italics indicates portions of the expressway either in planning or under construction, with the year the new section(s) are scheduled to open, if known.

MP1 Exit # Northbound Southbound
0.6 - South Norwalk South Norwalk
1.2 1 US-1 Norwalk US-1 Norwalk
1.9 2 CT-123 Norwalk, New Canaan CT-123 Norwalk, New Canaan
3.1 3 CT-15 Merritt Pkwy CT-15 Merritt Pkwy
4.0 - Gristmill Road (Expressway Ends) (Expressway Begins)
20.1 - (Expressway Begins) (Expressway Ends)
20.4 - Danbury Airport Danbury Airport
21.1 - Park Ave Park Ave
21.6 - I-84 WB (Begin Multiplex w/ I-84 EB) (End Multiplex w/ I-84 WB)
25.2 13 (End Multiplex w/ I-84 EB) I-84 EB (Begin Multiplex w/ I-84 WB)
26.5 11 US-202 Federal Road US-202 Federal Road
29.9 12 US-202 Brookfield (Expressway Ends) US-202 Brookfield (Expressway Begins)
32.2 (2010) 14 (Expressway Ends) (Expressway Begins)

Future of U.S Route 7

Expressway or No Expressway?

The debate over whether or not to build an expressway continues today.

In another twist, the Southwest Connecticut Regional Planning Agency restored constructing the Route 7 expressway between Norwalk and Danbury as a long-term "unfunded" project in 2001. In 2002, the Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board recommended constructing the Norwalk-Danbury expressway, along with the Brookfield Bypass as an integral part of relieving gridlock traffic in southwest Connecticut. In 2003, the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials (which includes Danbury) withdrew support for the Norwalk-Danbury segment of expressway, citing ongoing delays in design and environmental studies. In 2005, state and regional officials updated plans for the Norwalk-Danbury section of Route 7, calling for an expressway to be built as a last-resort option, "when all other options to improve regional mobility have been exhausted."

Officials estimate designing and constructing the Norwalk-Danbury expressway could cost as much as $1.4 billion—a cost many officials believe Connecticut cannot afford. There have been many ideas suggested recently as to funding the expressway, including tolls. Former U.S. Representative Jim Maloney, a strong supporter of completing the Route 7 expressway, suggested constructing it as a greenway. A highway built as a greenway will be constructed to design speeds of 75 MPH, but the main difference between greenway and interstate design standards is a greenway uses about half the land used by a highway built to interstate standards. This leaves large parcels of land in its natural state, and is more environmentally friendly than a contemporary expressway.

Because they offer the same level of safety and ease of travel and have less of an impact on the surrounding ecosystems, greenways are rapidly increasing in popularity as a solution to today's traffic problems. But right now, the only active expressway plans for Route 7 in Connecticut is the Brookfield Bypass. Construction on the Brookfield Bypass began in May 2007, and is expected to open to traffic in late 2009.

Like Wilton, the Town of New Milford originally opposed construction of the Route 7 Expressway. The fact the Brookfield Bypass will terminate at the New Milford town line is a reflection of this. Because of explosive development along Route 7 in southern New Milford, the town agreed to the reconstruction of U.S. 7, converting it from a 2-lane road to a 4-lane divided highway from the planned terminus of the Brookfield Bypass to the U.S. 7/202 split in central New Milford. Plans for the Brookfield Bypass and widening in New Milford were approved in 1998.

New Milford Bypass Considered

Since then, however, rapid growth has continued in New Milford, and officials are now examining options for improving traffic movement through town. An expressway bypass for Central New Milford is one option state and local officials are considering as a long-term solution. For the near-term, CONNDOT will realign Route 67 and construct the Grove Street Bypass starting in 2008. The new 2-lane road will serve as a southern bypass of New Milford for travelers going from Route 7 north to Route 67 east, and Route 67 west to Route 7 south. Concerning long-term plans, local and state officials however, will not announce any new expressway plans until traffic patterns adjust following the widening of U.S. 7 in New Milford and completion of the Brookfield Bypass. It is unlikely that anything will be built north of New Milford, as population and development quickly thins out beyond Veterans' Bridge. The towns north of New Milford largely oppose any significant changes to Route 7, be it an expressway or widening.

Fight Over the Merritt Parkway Interchange

The extended Route 7 Connector opened in 1992 with a partial interchange with the Merritt Parkway, allowing Parkway access to and from points west only. Since then CONNDOT has submitted several proposals to complete the interchange, all of which have been opposed by environmental groups and preservationists with the Merritt Parkway Conservency, and organization charged with preserving the historic character of the Parkway. The Parkway Conservency successfully sued CONNDOT in 2005, obtaining a federal judge's order to halting construction on the new ramps and forcing CONNDOT back to the drawing board. Since then, CONNDOT has developed new designs for the interchange, while the Merritt Parkway Conservency hired a highway engineer to create its own interchange designs. Both sides have been meeting periodically in order to resolve divisive issues in an attempt to reach a compromise on the profile of the upgraded interchange.2 In early 2008, CONNDOT and the Merritt Parkway Conservency reached a compromise on a new design for the Route 7/15 interchange, but residents living next to the interchange objected to the new design and threatened more lawsuits if approved. While discussions continue, an interchange design that appeals to all stakeholders continues to be elusive.

Extension to Route 33 Polarizes Norwalk and Wilton

On September 21, 2007, the General Assembly passed a funding bill that includes a mandate for CONNDOT to study extending the Route 7 Expressway from Gristmill Road to Route 33, a distance of about 2.1 miles (3.4 km).3 Norwalk officials have long supported extending the expressway, while Wilton opposes any plan that would bring an expressway north of the Norwalk/Wilton line, fearing that it would eventually pave the way for the rest of the highway to Danbury to be built.

Partisan Politics and Route 7

Much of the opposition to Route 7 Expressway has been from the Republican-dominated towns of Wilton and Redding, while the long-stalled expressway has had bi-partisan support in Norwalk, Danbury, and Brookfield. Opinions are fairly evenly divided in Ridgefield and New Milford. Wilton residents and officials have also protested the widening of the existing Route 7, which is currently ongoing and scheduled for completion in 2010.

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