If you’ve ever been to Avon, perhaps you’ve driven on Old Farms Road. It’s a narrow, winding road through Avon Old Farms property that is lined with trees. It’s a beautiful little stretch of road.
It’s also incredibly dangerous, doesn’t meet today’s safety standards and is in serious need of repairs. There have been dozens of accidents on the road over the years according to data collected by UConn and it’s unsafe for school buses and fire trucks to drive on it.
So the town has — literally over decades — been debating improvements to the road to make it safer while keeping the charm of the road.
It has held hearings on the subject, conducted surveys, and finally approved of a project that would fix part of the road, saving a redesign of the other part until next year. It would include a multi-use trail next to it, taking bikers and walkers off that stretch of the road too. It would even a small roundabout because those are much safer than any intersection.
There was no opposition to the project at any of the prior hearings. I know this because I attended them. Since I have driven on that road nearly every day for nearly 20 years, I have had a vested interest in seeing it improved. I even wrote about it in 2011.
Oh, and I left out the best part — town leaders secured state grants for the improvements to the road and arranged a free land swap with the school. The cost to Avon taxpayers? Nothing.
That should be the end of the story, right? Any sensible citizen would yawn and thank town leaders for doing what government should do — make improvements to a road that is otherwise surrounded by private property owned by Avon Old Farms School.
But this is Avon. And nothing is easy.
On Dec. 14, the Town has a referendum to approve of the receipt and appropriation of the $5.5 million in grant funding as required by the Town Charter. Notably a new group now purports to “Save Old Farms Road” and opposes the referendum on the grounds that the “charm” will be taken out of the road.
And given the rise of social media and disinformation, it’s now a prime example of our town leaders are hamstrung — even when they do everything right.
Why? In part because it’s far easier to oppose something than it is to create something. The opponents of the project have no alternatives and no solutions; all they know is that this project is bad and who needs the free money anyways. Town leaders are hamstrung as they want to leave it to voters.
So that leaves citizens like me to speak up. We have no “Make Avon Roads Safe” group. After all, why would we? Shouldn’t that be what we expect of our government officials?
So, to combat the false information being distributed, here are a few facts about the new project.
1) The project keeps the charm of the road. How? By moving existing section of the road west mostly to a vacant field and taking out just a minimum amount of trees around the road so that sightlines are compliant. The few that oppose the project are misguided; the charm of the road doesn’t come from the road itself but the school’s lack of development around it. Nothing in the new road will change that. It’s still in the same rural part of town. If people have a concern with preserving the area, then there’s good news: There have been no public plans from Avon Old Farms to develop the area at all. Mission accomplished.
2) The multiuse trail that is adjacent to the road will take most cyclists and pedestrians off this stretch of road. But more than that, this builds off existing town plans to provide more walking trails to town residents and ultimately a long overdue link between the Farmington Valley Rails to Trails and Fisher Meadows Recreational Area. Since when is having too many pedestrian trails an issue?
3) The current road is unsafe. Only improvements to the road will make it safer and other alternatives (that would be cost-effective and environmentally friendly) were already considered for the last few years. There have been literally hundreds of reported accidents on the road over the years with significant injuries (not to mention all the unreported ones). No other road in town comes close to the number of accidents. Why would we knowingly keep a road unsafe for our fellow citizens? We can improve the road AND preserve the charm. The two are not mutually exclusive.
4) Lastly, this project is just part one of the reconstruction of Old Farms Road. The town will be designing the east-west portion (from Tillotson Road to Thompson Road) next year. Some might argue that the east-west portion should’ve been done first. But that would’ve set the project back further and would have jeopardized existing allocated funding.
As someone who is forced to use this road as their main connector to and from work and Fisher Meadows, we need more citizens to stand up and applaud the town for securing the funding at no cost to town taxpayers.
Roads are not museums. They have also been repaired, improved upon, and revitalized.
And I’ll be voting yes in favor of the referendum. I hope my fellow citizens do the same.
Daniel Schwartz lives in Avon.