Yesterday the Department of Transportation held a reconsideration hearing for the ruling on Flower Street. This was requested back in November by Timothy Wilson, the Manager of Highway Design. When the request was granted, in November, only few of the stakeholders were notified of the new hearing date; the others found out just in recent days after a FOIA request was placed, essentially forcing the DOT to make contact with those who had opposed the closure of Flower Street during the first hearing. It is unclear what efforts were placed in filing public notice of this hearing; those who were informed of it were given scant details as to the nature of the evidence that the DOT would be presenting to itself.
The conflict of interest inherent in an agency ruling on its own matters has been controversial, but not enough to force reconsideration of how this matter is being handled.
What new evidence did the DOT have that would force the closure of Flower Street to pedestrians and cyclists in addition to motorists?
Brian Cunningham from the Department of Transportation read testimony and presented maps and walking times at the hearing on Thursday, held at DOT headquarters in Newington. He showed a computer-generated image of a bridge and showed how often his agency has allegedly reached out to stakeholders over this last year. One of the results from the previous ruling was that the agency was told it needed to up its involvement with stakeholders.
Although another news organization is claiming the DOT put forth a “new plan” at Thursday’s hearing, this is in fact false.
When it became clear that residents and business owners from Asylum Hill and Frog Hollow were not going to quietly accept the closure of a safe north-south route for pedestrians and cyclists, the DOT offered several alternate plans for mitigation back in 2012. Stakeholders at meetings where these alternatives had been revealed have said it seems that the agency has no interest in actually bringing any of these to fruition except for building a path that would run east/west between Flower and Broad Streets. This plan, being discussed since at least September, was treated as a new element at Thursday’s hearing, despite nothing new in it.
Every other possible way to mitigate a potential closure of Flower Street to all traffic has been shut down by the DOT for safety, funding, or right-of-way (the “blame Amtrak” method) issues. The agency has repeatedly been asked to provide current and comprehensive studies proving that the claims being made about potential risks are valid.
It’s not just the neighborhoods complaining. At the reconsideration hearing, the City of Hartford and Hearing Officer asked why the busway could not just stop at Sigourney Street. Cunningham claimed that Sigourney would be unable to handle the increased traffic that the buses would create. Ironically, the closure of Flower Street to motorized traffic has increased the vehicular volume on both Sigourney and Broad.
Because the DOT did not provide sufficient advance notice about the nature of evidence to be presented at the reconsideration hearing, stakeholders are being permitted to submit written testimony.