BRIDGEWATER — First Selectman Curtis Read is displeased over a pending proposal by the Connecticut Department of Transportation to designate part of Route 133 as a scenic road. This designation may happen by early November.
Read’s concerns include lack of public input, loss of local control and increased tourist traffic through town.
A meeting was scheduled to be held Tuesday evening over Zoom in an effort to address those concerns. David Elder, a transportation planner for the state Department of Transportation and chairperson of Bridgewater’s Scenic Roads Advisory Committee, was expected to present.
The meeting was meant to be recorded and sent to the CT DOT commissioner.
At the meeting, Elder was expected to provide a definition of a scenic road, explain the designation in question and collect written comments from the public.
At the September Board of Selectmen meeting, Elder provided background on the scenic road designation proposal.
He said what initiated the conversation is a lengthy letter received in February by Brookfield resident Alex Lopes to CT DOT.
“Whenever I go to New Milford or farther north I often take CT-133 and CT-67 to get there,” Lopes wrote. “Every time I pass through this route I notice the hills, the river, and all the historic buildings along the way.”
One of his favorite parts is the Bridgewater Center Historic District, which has historic buildings, such as the village store and post office, and has been the “center of Bridgewater since it was incorporated,” he writes. He describes stopping at Lover's Leap Lookout to “observe the beautiful mountains.”
The proposed scenic road designation would extend from Brookfield on Route 133 northeast across the Lake Lillinonah bridge, past the boat launch, north through Bridgewater on Route 133, past the fairgrounds and downtown of the Village Center, north on 133 and the intersection of Route 67, and then west or north on Route 67 to downtown New Milford. It would go all the way across the Veterans’ Bridge on Route 202.
In his letter, Lopes wrote listing the route as a scenic byway “would help preserve the surrounding areas from future development that may ruin the scenic, historic and rural charm.”
In Elder’s presentation to the Board of Selectmen, he explained the Scenic Roads Advisory Committee as a statutory entity whose charge is “two-fold.”
“We review proposals to establish new scenic roads on state highways or state roads and we also review projects that are going to be undertaken on those roads once they’ve been established,” Elder said.
The criteria CT DOT looks for when determining whether a road is scenic includes highways that are on the National or State Register of Historic Places, as well as if the road has special features such as scenic vistas, stone walls, marshes or any scenery that has “unique character,” Elder said.
“It must have natural, cultural features along its borders such as agricultural land, historic borders, shorelines, and forests with mature trees,” he said.
After studying the proposed roads, Elder said some segments qualify as a scenic road, while others don’t.
“After review, the committee recommended splitting up that corridor into two segments — one would be from Obtuse Road on the southerly side of the Lake Lillinonah bridge, north through Bridgewater, and then ending at Morrissey Lane, just below the intersection with Route 67 and 133,” he said.
The other section would be from Lover’s Leap lookout traveling west or north on Route 67 into New Milford town center and then west on Route 202, ending by the historic train station.
Elder added once a road is established as a scenic road, the Scenic Roads Advisory Committee would make sure it stays that way.
“When there’s a project that’s undertaken by the Department of Transportation that’s going to occur on that scenic road, the Scenic Road Advisory Committee reviews the proposal and we see if there are going to be any activities that are going to negatively impact that scenic road designation. If so, they would recommend mitigation strategies,” Elder said.
Read said residents should have more of a say in the decision that “directly affects the town.”
He said it sounds that the proposal for a scenic road “is a done deal, and that just seems to me not a very inclusive process for the town that’s going to be the most affected by this designation.”
He added the “tradition” of the New England towns is that “you have some control over your own property in town that at least is respected or given a nod to.”
In response, Elder said for state roads, the state maintains jurisdiction, oversight and decision-making authority on that facility.
Read said, however, while the roads in question are state roads, “it happens to mostly be citizens’ properties and town properties that make it scenic.”
The CT DOT plans to present the proposal in November to the DOT commissioner.
In a telephone call prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Read said he plans to send residents’ comments on the scenic road to the DOT commissioner and state representatives.
“I will tell them that I think this process of trying to make a scenic road somewhere without the permission of the town is inconsiderate of our wishes,” Read said. “We don’t want tour buses, we don’t people in New York to look up scenic roads in Connecticut and come for drives through Bridgewater. We’re already getting swamped with a lot of traffic post COVID.”
“We want to be off the grid,” he added.