Two traffic signs stand by Old Farms Road in Avon, Connecticut, on Feb. 8, 2023. While the road has been deemed unsafe by town officials, some locals argue its integral role in shaping the town’s rural character, as well as its sentimental value. (Esther Ju/UConn Journalism)
By Esther Ju | UConn Journalism
May 5, 2023
AVON, Conn. — Tucked within stretches of woods, a century-old pathway lays amid spindly oaks and towering white pines. A bright yellow sign is visible beside the green, bearing a black squiggle that signifies what’s coming.
A gentle veer to the left is immediately followed by one to the right. And then to the left again. Then to the right. Further down, metal guardrails line a bridge where the path hangs over a clear brook. Shallow water bathes large stones that dot the bottom.
For years, residents have traveled down Old Farms Road, observing its bucolic surroundings as they pass through. The route symbolizes the rural lifestyle fostered by a small town, left virtually unchanged since its origins as a dirt road. Now, looming plans to reconstruct Old Farms Road have sparked opposition from some town dwellers, who fear the loss of its rustic charm and, most of all, the erasure of a cherished place.
“I love that road. I drive it every single day, like anybody around here who lives in that region or on that road — and we love it,” said Bob Lobley, who’s lived on Old Farms since 1992. He later reminisced about his relatives’ reactions: “And when my family comes out to visit, my nephews would say, ‘We’re going to the forest. Uncle Bob lives in the forest.’”
Following a close vote last December, Avon residents approved to allocate nearly $5.5 million in state grants toward the road’s reconstruction. A roundabout, crosswalk and multi-use trail are small additions compared to the project’s main adjustment: relocating the road 180 feet to the west by building a new passage and abandoning the existing roadway.
Plans for redesign have been in the works since 1969, said town engineer Larry Baril. However, a decades-long delay was the result of a complicated process. While many different alignments were considered, each step required an environmental review, some component of public information and, more importantly, funding, Baril said. With the state willing to pay for the project, the town saw a suitable chance for the path to be revamped.
The beauty of Old Farms stems from its original purpose as a country backroad, but it was never built to carry vehicles, Baril said. The road’s structure doesn’t meet modern safety standards, he added, nor does it offer much room for multiple cars to cruise by.
Police records indicate that approximately 281 reported crashes occurred on Old Farms Road from Jan. 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2022. The last fatal motor vehicle accident happened in 2011. According to Officer Jason Reardon from the Avon Police Department, most accidents tend to result in property damage, which comprise minor damage to vehicles and minor injuries.
Lobley has witnessed a handful of more serious collisions from his kitchen window, yet he opposes the project wholeheartedly. His house is perched adjacent to where Old Farms intersects with Country Club Road, an awkward section that bends into a sharp curve. Last fall, he watched four teenage boys — students from the neighboring Avon Old Farms School — carried out on bodyboards after failing to negotiate the curve. Two summers ago, a young man made the same mistake, ramming his vehicle into a nearby telephone pole.
The Old Farms resident agrees that the road calls for safety concerns, but he also believes that the project does not address the actual problem area: right by his front yard. Lobley’s neighborhood is located out of the scope for reconstruction, where he says many of the worst crashes occur.
It’ll be at least a year before construction begins, said Baril. The current route will remain accessible while the new roadway is built. Still, residents like David Kotler and Joseph Gilberti face the bitter reality that their time spent driving along Old Farms — the existing path hidden among tall trees — is numbered.
Kotler has enjoyed his drive to work for 16 years, meandering through narrow bridges and spotting wildlife every morning.
“It’s a very non-stressful commute,” he said. “Even when the guy in front of me is going slower than I’d like him to, it’s just so peaceful.”
Gilberti’s fondness for the road derives from memories of picking up his grandchildren from West Hartford, “winding and singing” en route back home. Old Farms was the sole factor that drew his family to Avon in the 1980s. When they arrived, they looked forward to a future of scenic drives. Soon, the road itself will become part of the past.
“It’s not only us and our interests,” Gilberti said, voicing his objection to the project. “But it’s generations. This is [for] future generations.”
Others see it differently.
“Once this project is completed, in 10 years people won’t even remember,” Officer Reardon said. “They’ll just forget.”