Angry residents prompt special meeting on Vernon Avenue project
By Kym Soper
VERNON - Angry residents upset over a drawn out road project on Vernon Avenue have convinced the mayor and Town Council to set a special meeting and investigate claims of dynamite blasting without notice, strewn garbage and debris in yards, and unapproved changes to design plans.
The $1.6 million state reconstruction project between South Street and Hartford Turnpike has been more than 10 years in the making, and from the start some residents have been opposed to the work.
Construction on Vernon Avenue finally began last spring, and with it came a torrential flood of complaints to Town Hall.
Frank Guadagnino, who lives at 290 Vernon Ave., has been the most vocal, criticizing the work done by the state Transportation Department and hotly raising issues at a number of recent Town Council meetings.
"Nothing on this project makes sense," an irate Guadagnino told the mayor and council members Tuesday night. "You need to take this up and put your foot down. You have the power. Why should we suffer."
Besides charges of litter and blasting without warning, Guadagnino says that one neighbor's pool was washed away because of changes in street elevation, and workers seem to take extended breaks at nearby restaurants.
"Another lady is on oxygen, with a sign on her front lawn clearly indicating that, and a truck sits running in her driveway all day kicking up fumes and dust," Guadagnino added.
Moreover, designs and elevations have been drastically changed from the approved plans, bringing the street pavement up to the doorway of one resident and creating more driveway to shovel for another, Guadagnino has said.
Guadagnino, who has threatened a lawsuit more than once, was on record from the beginning as being against the project, saying it would encourage motorists to break the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit.
However, some residents say vehicles already drive between 40 and 60 miles-per-hour on the road, and straightening the curved and hilly avenue is the only way to prevent a tragic accident.
A town traffic study done during the early days of the project said an average of 2,500 cars travel on Vernon Avenue daily, driving an average of 38 miles per hour.
And during initial discussions, complaints were made that trucks had to cross the dividing line in some areas to navigate the curves.
In 1998 the state and town decided to pursue the project to rectify what they called a safety hazard.
"Some people have a difference of opinion, but we need to get to the bottom of this," Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said early today on the latest charges. "The lynchpin here is having the state come in to discuss this, because I don't know myself, frankly, who made changes in this design, or even if there were substantiative changes, and are they blasting without notice or not?"
"Not trashing the site is easy enough to take care of, but the real question is where was the ball dropped, or was it dropped at all?" Marmer added.
Marmer and the council decided unanimously Tuesday night to hold a special meeting - preferably before the Sept. 18 Town Council meeting - where residents could view all the plans showing changes made over the years and discuss their concerns with town and state staff.
A date will be set as soon as all parties are notified and coordinated, Marmer said.
Identified by the state as an "urban connector" to downtown Rockville, the south end of Vernon Avenue is typically a heavily traveled road with a rural, country atmosphere.
The project entails widening the road by an average of 1½ feet, adding 4-foot shoulders, constructing sidewalks, improving sight distances, smoothing curves, and updating drainage systems.
Before the project began, the average width of Vernon Avenue ranged between 23 and 39 feet. That should change to an average of 26.4 to 27.9 feet once work is completed.
The town was responsible for design and environmental assessments, spending roughly $160,000 and getting input from residents in the late 1990s. Both state and federal governments are funding the project with work being conducted by the state Transportation Department.
©Journal Inquirer 2007