City Point residents have prevented highway construction from encroaching on Long Wharf Nature Preserve, a waterfront area in New Haven.
After gridlock traffic on Interstate 95 raised concerns, the Connecticut Department of Transporation decided this past summer to pave an exit ramp that would have covered a third of the preserve. But concerned local citizens — ranging from environmental activists to tourists to veterans — petitioned and worked with city planning departments to reverse the decision. As a result of the efforts, James Redeker, the Department of Transportation’s acting commissioner, announced last week that the state had discontinued ramp construction plans. Richard Armstrong, the department’s principal engineer of state highways, said that after hearing the concerted efforts from the New Haven Land Trust and the City Point neighborhood, the department reconsidered its plans and will instead build an extra operational lane to lengthen weave distance, not the intrusive ramp that was slated originally.
The decision reversal comes as a relief to City Point residents, who said they value the preserve for its natural beauty.
“The preserve is like a secret, an undiscovered jewel,” said Steve Wilcox, a high school teacher who visits the preserve with his family. “The idea that you can have this waterfront park with an incredible view is amazing.”
Wilcox, who led the residents’ movement to preserve the wharf, said he started a petition on change.org and emailed neighbors after being concerned over the ramp’s potential construction in June. He added that he obtained over 600 signatures and that veterans’ groups also opposed the ramp, which would have dumped cars in front of a Vietnam War memorial.
Two other residents interviewed said they were especially concerned about what precedent the preserve’s loss would set. Anna Mariotti, another City Point resident, said that the preserve is a buffer to I-95 and has given people public access to the waterfront.
But it was not only residents who were concerned about the construction plans.
The New Haven Land Trust, a nonprofit environmental group, publicized City Point residents’ cause in New Haven newspapers and held a press conference on June 19.
Chris Randall, the executive director of the New Haven Land Trust, said he felt a duty to stand up and protect the small, but ecologically important, area because of the damage the ramp would have caused to the preserve’s ecosystems.
“Here’s something that almost gives you a sense of what New Haven was like during the precolonial era. You see the ‘edge effect’: When trying to protect a space, the edges are the most critical, because that’s where things like pollution bleed in,” said Chris Ozyck, the community green space manager at Yale’s Urban Resources Initiative. Ozyck added that the ramp would also have disrupted the East Coast Greenway, a trail from Maine to Florida, upsetting cyclists and hikers.
Karyn Gilvarg ARC ’75, the executive director of the City Plan Department, said the movement against ramp construction was coordinated with many groups.
“We’ve been talking to the nature preserve, the parks department, and City Point residents over the last decade and a half,” she said, adding that the department served as a mediator throughout the process.
The New Haven Land Trust acquired the land that would become the Long Wharf Nature Preserve in 1994.