At its regular meeting on Thursday, Sept. 6, the Board of Selectmen approved a special appropriation of $22,650 to cut down 32 trees on Old Mill Road.
The goal of the tree cutting is to improve sightlines and make the narrow road safer for residents. Old Mill Road is a popular cut-through for traffic heading from Weston to Wilton. The end of Old Mill Road becomes Cobb’s Mill Road in Wilton.
The approval was made following a presentation by Weston Police Chief John Troxell, Police Sergeant Pat Daubert and John Conte, town engineer.
Mr. Conte explained that Knapp Tree, Inc. was the lowest bidder for the job at $17,850. An additional $4,800 is needed for police coverage on the road.
While no official date has been set for the start of the tree removal project, the plan is to close Old Mill Road to through traffic for five days, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m, to allow for the tree cutting. “We need to close the road because it’s so narrow and there is a lack of working space,” said Chief Troxell.
He said there will be an officer stationed at each end of the road to keep it open to only people living on Old Mill Road. He said he will speak to the Wilton Police chief to let them know what is going on before the project starts.
The funding request was sent to the selectmen after it was approved at a meeting of the Police Commission — the town’s traffic authority — on Tuesday, Sept. 4. The commission unanimously approved the plan to cut down 32 trees following complaints from residents on Old Mill Road about excessive speeding. Old Milll Road is narrow and very twisty in spots, with poor visibility and sightlines.
The trees being cut vary in size in shape but some are very large, in excess of 20 inches in diameter, Chief Troxell said. No telephone poles will be removed, but large rocks on the edge of the roadway will be removed by the Public Works Department, Mr. Conte said.
Mr. Conte has identified the trees that will be removed. They will be marked and before the tree cutting on Old Mill Road starts, there will be a public appeal time when the public can appeal the cutting down of a tree, Mr. Conte said.
First Selectman Gayle Weinstein asked if cutting down trees would encourage more speeding, a concern echoed by some of the residents. Sgt. Daubert responded that the more narrow the road, the more the sightlines are diminished, and that while there may be an increase in speed at some point, removing the trees would be helpful along with traffic enforcement and new signs. “It won’t solve the problem overnight but it will make it safer,” he said.
Selectman Dennis Tracey said after the tree cutting is done, he would like police to monitor the road to see if speeding has decreased and safety has increased. The other selectmen agreed they would like a follow-up report after the work is done.
Sgt. Daubert presented the selectmen with a traffic study conducted on Old Mill Road over the course of 30 days. The study was done by a portable mechanical speed monitoring device, nicknamed “The Pizza Box” because of its boxy shape and white color.
The device collects data, including the number of cars driving by, the time, and the average speed. It monitored traffic on Old Mill Road heading from Weston to Wilton, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., over the course of a month.
According to the study, approximately 900 cars traveled southerly down Old Mill Road every day. The heaviest time was on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., when approximately 140 vehicles used the road. On weekends, an average of 500 cars were counted on the road.
The speed limit on Old Mill Road is 15 miles per hour (mph). The study showed:
• Only 22% of the vehicles traveled under 25 mph
• 71% of all vehicles traveled between 26 mph and 35 mph
• 6% of all vehicles traveled above 35 mph. Of those only a very few traveled in excess of 50 miles per hour.
“When you travel 35 miles per hour down Old Mill Road, you’re flying,” Sgt. Daubert said.
After the trees are removed, future plans include striping it (a visual deterrent), adding more signs, and increasing police enforcement. Chief Troxell said it’s been difficult to do speed enforcement because the sightlines are so poor and there is no safe place for police to pull over speeders.
Traffic on the road should also be improved in a couple years when the lights on Weston Road and School Road are scheduled to be synchronized as part of a state Department of Transportation project. Chief Troxell said more people will then use Weston Road and fewer will use Old Mill Road as a cut-through.
During public comment, Ali Farsun, a resident of Old Mill Road who led the complaints about speeding and safety, said she appreciates the measures the town is taking with the tree cutting. However, she considers Old Mill Road a two-step problem. “Volume is an issue too, not just the speeding,” she said.
She said she hopes that once the trees are cut the town would consider putting in speed bumps or other measures to stop speeding.
Mr. Conte responded that Old Mill Road is too narrow and twisty and does not meet federal guideline safety measures for speed bumps. Cobb’s Mill Road in Wilton, on the other end of Old Mill Road, does have speed bumps, but Chief Troxell said the town of Wilton did extensive road work in order to accommodate them.
All agreed to review the situation after the trees are cut.