A recent stop along Connecticut’s most recently renovated service plazas showed this writer both positive and negative changes for travelers.
The service plaza, located along the historic Wilbur Cross Parkway, made news headlines but this writer wanted to give an in-depth look on how the 21st century meets history.
Located in North Haven, along a four-lane highway that connects the Berlin Turnpike with the Merritt Parkway, one service area is the first one along Route 15 in the southbound direction and the last one along Route 15 in the northbound direction.
Both the Merritt and the Wilbur Cross Parkways prohibit commercial vehicles and consequently their 10 service plazas cater to passenger vehicles only.
As drivers go down the parkway southbound past exit 64 and northbound past exit 63, they see blue signs advertising the renovated service plazas and small monument signs spell out the new vendors to the 1949 building.The historic brick buildings, with numerous windows and white window shutters originally served as two gasoline and service station. Both have gone above and beyond this to meet traveler’s needs for the 21st century.
The service plazas, formerly housing Mobil Mart convenience stores, have been reconfigured to offer fresh food and beverage services.
A mini food court now features a 24-hour Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts Express.They are conveniently located along each building’s main entrance which previously was obscured by four gasoline pumps.These pumps have been relocated to the left side of the buildings for a variety of reasons.
To allow more vehicles to fill up simultaneously, the number of pumps have been increased from four to six, an objective that was nearly impossible in the old configuration.
The relocation of these pumps increases safety by allowing additional space for drivers to slow down and having them drive into the fueling area at a vertical rather than horizontal angle.
The new configuration draws more attention to the historical beauty of the buildings which features a newly restored clock and ancient mill lighting; one of the key signatures that the developer wanted to preserve. The reconfiguration makes it easier for drivers who have different reasons for making a pit stop.
Those using either building’s main entrance can visit the mini food court in the lobby, take a quick left to enter Fast Freddie’s convenience store or make a quick right turn to visit newly relocated restrooms.
The environmentally friendly men, women, and family restrooms with brown Earth tone colors feature motion activated lights as well as low-flow toilets and urinals.
Visitors who want to get gas and then go inside can park in spaces on the left side adjacent to the pumps and enter the south entrance bringing them into Fast Freddie’s.
The store has lower shelving, less aisles of merchandise, and a more airy feeling with natural light from windows than the old Mobil Mart had. Gone are the days when windshield wiper fluid, bottles of water and soda, and massive amounts of motor oil are stacked on the floor always in the way for shoppers.
The buildings do not include a “gift shop” component with state or area attraction souvenirs even though the building received a small 500 square foot rear addition.
The cashier is no longer behind a wall of glass but is in view of surveillance cameras and a monitor with various camera views is right next to the register.
On-site solar panels provide as much as 15 percent of the energy for the buildings and an electric car charging station will soon be installed at this service plazas.
To meet current environmental standards, brand new gasoline pumps were installed on the left side underneath new canopies to supply customers with the three grades of Mobil gasoline.
Gone are the days of the attendants having to change large numbers to update the prices as a new red electronic sign performs the same task.
The historic northbound service plaza building was originally 1,831 square feet while the southbound service plaza building was originally 2,760-square-feet, much smaller than its sister plazas on the busier Interstate 95 which vary from 6,000 to 16,000 square feet.
Important safety changes to the service plazas encourages pedestrians to use sidewalks and decreases chances for vehicular traffic and pedestrians to meet paths.
Both site’s small size is probably the reason why there is no indoor or outdoor seating on the property.
The lack of seating seems to discourage travelers from being at the service plaza too long.
To discourage littering and encourage conservation, garbage cans and recycle bins have been placed along the sidewalks of the service plaza.
A new light-up Welcome to Connecticut sign provides a huge highway map of the state, at each service plaza, with labels for “Tourist Information” but there are no businesses or advertisements listed.
There are no brochures anywhere on site or mention of the sister service plazas in Connecticut, or even a website that visitors can go to for more information.
The new boards replace outdated Welcome to Connecticut display cases that provided some information about tourism websites.
The site features a new small canine walking area that seems to be placed a little bit too close to the highway’s on ramps.
While the renovated service plazas are definitely a welcome change for most travelers, it seems that with small improvements, it could become an even better facility.
Those improvements could make the service plazas a benchmark for other states in how we should take care of both our tourists and residents who use Connecticut’s highways.
Users of the facility can provide feedback via a box that has been placed near the north entrance or by visiting the Connecticut Service Plaza web site.
The other service plazas (both at 1,900-square feet) on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Orange will receive similar improvements in 2012.
Interstate 95 travelers can look forward in the coming months in seeing two newly renovated 15,000-square-foot service plazas reopen on the northbound and southbound sides in Milford.
Those service plazas will continue to feature McDonald’s and Mobil alongside Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, Geno Auiremma’s Fast Break Restaurant and a convenience store.
All renovations are being done by Project Service LLC, which has a 30-year contract to renovate and operate all 23 service plazas on state highways.
In addition to the service plazas mentioned in this article, these include Merritt Parkway (Route 15) service plazas in both directions in Greenwich, New Canaan and Fairfield along with Connecticut Turnpike (Interstate 95) service plazas in both directions in Darien, Fairfield, Branford, and Madison.
Both Interstate 395 service plazas in Plainfield and the lone southbound service plaza in Montville will also be renovated.
Turmelle, Luteher. “Wilbur Cross Parkway Service Area in North Haven, First to Be Revamped, Opens”. New Haven Register.http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2011/04/21/news/doc4db0ba6c2aba8301047032.txt
Stannard, Ed. “Parkway Plaza Upgrades Will Deliver Coffee, Fresh Food.” New Haven Register.http://www.newhavenregister.com/articles/2010/07/20/news/doc4c450bb06e99e041897074.txt
Swartz, Kyle. “Facelifts Planned for I-95 and Parkway Service Plazas.” The North Haven Citizen.http://northhaven.ctcitizens.com/story/facelifts-planned-i-95-and-parkway-service-plazas
Unknown Writer. “I-95 Rest Stops in Milford to Close for a Year.” New Haven Register. http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2010/11/22/news/doc4ceaf37d8258b484516165.txt
Connecticut Department of Transportation. “Statewide Rest Area and Service Plaza Study: CONN DOT Project No. 170-2533.”http://www.ct.gov/dot/cwp/view.asp?a=3529&q=443342
Conncecticut Service Plazas: Redeveloped, Redefined.http://ctserviceplazas.com/.