EAST HAVEN — With the expansion of Tweed New Haven Airport moving ahead, Mayor Joseph Carfora urged the state to offer viable solutions for frequent flooding near the proposed new terminal.
Just up the street from the entrance to the planned 80,000-square-foot terminal, Carfora said the state-owned intersection of Coe Avenue, Hemingway Avenue and Short Beach Road floods between 15 to 25 times per year, trapping cars and straining town resources.
For years, the town has been urging the state to fix the frequent flooding resulting from the overflow of the nearby Farm River. However, with the recent federal approval of the $165 million Tweed expansion, Carfora said, East Haven needs help sooner rather than later.
“With the airport or without the airport, this has been an ongoing issue for many, many, many years. Nothing was ever done about it,” he said. “But there’s no way around it now. Something has to be done.”
In September, the state Department of Transportation proposed several improvements for the intersection in a letter to Carfora. Along with offering ways to reduce flooding like raising the elevation of the intersection and upsizing nearby drainage, the department included ways to improve safety and traffic, such as removing travel lanes and adding bike lanes.
But on Friday, Carfora told CT Examiner that the state’s solutions did not consider projected traffic increases from the airport expansion.
A 2022 traffic study estimated there would be about 7,700 daily vehicle trips to the new airport terminal, increasing current traffic levels at the Proto Drive entrance from moderate to excessive. If the state removes traffic lanes and traffic increases as projected, Carfora said East Haven will continue to bear the cost.
According to a DOT spokesperson, the state currently responds to flooding at the intersection by setting up “water over the road” signs. But Carfora said drivers often travel into the flooding regardless, meaning the town must station local police officers at the intersection for the duration of the flood event.
“This is a financial burden on our town, with our officers being pulled away from other patrols to sit down there,” Carfora said. “Sometimes, we have to bring in officers and pay them overtime to sit there.”
Most recently, Carfora said police had to station an SUV in the middle of the flooded intersection on Jan. 13 to rescue trapped cars. The flooding remained for hours after the heavy rainfall stopped, he said, growing as high as 2 feet above the street and blocking access to surrounding neighborhoods and businesses.
In the Sept. 27 letter from principal engineer Emin Basic, the state suggested raising the intersection by 2.5 feet, reducing the lanes moving southbound on Coe Avenue from two to one, and reducing the width of some lanes. In an Oct. 11 response, Carfora cautioned the department against several of the changes.
In addition to the traffic increases from Tweed, Carfora said the new lanes would likely be too narrow for firetrucks, and questioned the impact of the grade change on surrounding properties.
“Raising the grade of the roadway and immediate environs will address flooding on the road, but where will the stormwater be directed in lieu? Will there be any impacts felt by neighboring property owners?” he asked.
As of Monday, the department has not provided a written response to Carfora’s questions. On Friday, however, the department spokesperson said the town and state have had multiple meetings to discuss the proposed project.
Regarding the anticipated rise in traffic due to the Tweed expansion, the spokesperson clarified that the proposal’s primary purpose was to address flooding issues. If the department decides to advance the project, they would subsequently collect updated traffic counts and projections.
“CTDOT has been in communication with the town of East Haven about this issue and remains committed to working with the town to ensure its concerns are addressed during the concept phase of this project,” the department said.
Asked how the airport plans to address flooding near the proposed new terminal, Tweed officials said last week that it was ultimately an issue between East Haven and the state. Still, officials said, all designs will be reviewed by the DOT and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection before construction begins.
Tweed Executive Director Tom Rafter said the airport expansion has benefited East Haven by allowing local floodplains to be reviewed by state and federal agencies.
“Plans to improve the airport have taken floodplains into thorough consideration, and those plans have now been extensively reviewed and approved by federal officials as part of a yearlong process that was peer reviewed by experts at the FAA, the EPA, Army Corp of Engineers and CT DEEP,” Rafter said. “We are confident that through continued coordination with state and local officials, additional planned changes at HVN will be achieved in a responsible manner that is cognizant of future weather events.”