WALLINGFORD— Waiting for the bus in front of Walmart Wednesday morning, Bethany Durgan’s only escape from bone-chilling wind gusts was a traffic light control box near the store’s entrance on Route 5.
Durgan, 31, of Wallingford, walked over to the bus stop with a friend just after 10 a.m. They came from the ShopRite plaza next to Walmart and waited to board the regional bus that travels between Meriden and New Haven every hour. Wallingford’s local bus line pulls into the ShopRite, but the regional bus stays on Route 5. Huddled behind the control box, Durgan expressed her desire for a bus shelter in front of Walmart.
“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “This is a very popular place.”
As an avid bus rider, Durgan said, she notices people waiting for the bus while sitting on shopping carts. Durgan said she often rides the local Wallingford bus, but on occasion must use the regional bus. On both routes, there are a high percentage of older people who stop at Walmart.
“It would be nice for them to be able to sit down somewhere,” she said. “To see them stand out here, it’s horrible.”
Regional and local bus lines stop at Walmart about 20 minutes after the hour, according to schedules posted by Connecticut Transit.
About once a month, Meriden resident Joe Wojcik said he takes the bus to Walmart. Wojcik got off the regional bus from Meriden about 20 minutes after 10 a.m. Wednesday.
“Put it in there,” Wojcik, 65, said of a bus shelter in front of Walmart. “I’m all for it.”
Wallingford resident Susan Plourde, 59, often shops at Walmart and takes the regional bus traveling south toward New Haven because it drops her off closer to home. To catch the southbound bus, Plourde had to wait across Route 5 opposite Walmart. She placed her groceries on the ground and waited for several minutes for the 11 a.m. regional line.
Plourde said a bus shelter in front of Walmart is a “great idea.”
“It’s a good place to sit and wait, especially if you’re cold and you have things to carry,” she said.
During a Town Council meeting earlier this month, Town Councilor John LeTourneau proposed that the town purchase a bus shelter for placement on the state right-of-way in front of Walmart.
A bus shelter “seems like a reasonable use of state property,” DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick told the Record-Journal earlier this month.
But Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said the town has neither the time nor money to invest in working with the state to place a bus shelter near Walmart. LeTourneau said he has been working with the state because the town has had difficulties dealing with Walmart.
Walmart management initially asked the town for the bus shelter in 2008, according to Town Engineer John Thompson. In response, the town applied for a federal grant. With the town ready to install the shelter with grant money, an attorney for Walmart stepped in and asked for certain requirements. The town wanted an easement so that a bus shelter could be installed permanently, but Walmart asked that the town enter into a license agreement. Neither side could come to an agreement.
Bill Wertz, a Walmart spokesman, said earlier this month the company would be “happy to discuss the topic again.”
LeTourneau said he plans to continue working with the state to come to an agreement.
“Before I can pursue it with the town, I just have to make sure it’s alright with the state,” he said.
If a tentative agreement is made, LeTourneau said, he would bring it before the council and attempt to get funding for a shelter. The town recently purchased two shelters for lower Center Street at about $6,000 each.
“I can see it’s going to move forward slowly,” LeTourneau said. “I think it can get done.”
People have told him that the shelter should be purchased by Walmart, LeTourneau said, but that would be unfair.
“We shouldn’t rely on corporate America all the time for something like that,” he said.
A safer crossing should also be considered for bus riders who are dropped off across the street from Walmart, LeTourneau said. “It’s a public safety issue that will have to be picked up after this.”
“It’s dangerous,” Durgan said Wednesday, because there aren’t any crossing signals or painted crosswalks.
After shopping in Walmart, Plourde crossed Route 5 to catch the bus.
“You walk halfway across the street and have to stop and wait for a car before you can go again,” she said. “It’s a dangerous crossing because there’s no walk light.”
Most intersections on Route 5 don’t have painted crosswalks or crossing signals, Thompson said. Traffic and pedestrian signaling on Route 5 is controlled by the state. “It’s a philosophical view of the DOT,” he said.
Nursick said Wednesday that most of Route 5 contains “non-exclusive phase” pedestrian crossings. An “exclusive phase” crossing has painted crosswalks and signals that notify pedestrians when to walk. These are placed in areas of high pedestrian traffic, he said. When a crossing button is pressed in an “exclusive phase” all lights turn red. There is a “non-exclusive phase” crossing by the Walmart bus stop that includes a push button. When the button is pressed, vehicles exiting Walmart are given a green light while traffic on Route 5 is stopped.
There is no crossing signal in this situation, Nursick said, because it would give pedestrians a false sense of security. Since there is still traffic coming out from Walmart, pedestrians must remain cautious, he said. But in this instance, “the pedestrian has the right-of-way.”
Nothing is set in stone, Nursick said, and if there are complaints, the DOT is willing to inspect how a crossing can be made safer.
“We’re always happy to do that,” he said. But placing “exclusive phase” crossings all along Route 5 and similar state-owned roads would “stagnate traffic all over the state,” Nursick said.
In approving pedestrian and vehicle safety plans, the state works with a community’s traffic authority, Nursick said. In Wallingford, Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio is the traffic authority.
Lt. Marc Mikulski, a police spokesman, said no one has ever made a complaint to the department regarding pedestrian crossing on Route 5.