David Eldridge wants better access to Canal Street for emergency personnel — specifically the connection from Wooster Street North, over the railroad tracks.

But with neither the city nor the Housatonic Railroad Co. taking action to reopen that long closed Wooster Street North access across the tracks, the Shelton native said the only way to shine the spotlight on this issue was jumping back into the political scene — this time with Planning & Zoning.

Eldridge, a city police officer for more than 30 years and former two-term Democratic alderman representing the second ward, had lived out of town for some time but has recently returned. And what better way to address this concern — and his many others with impacts of development on traffic throughout the city — than running for the commission that sits in the middle of the fray.

“When I saw the rapid growth of all the building going on in town, I felt I had to get involved again,” said Eldridge, in the past recognized for his heroics, most recently for helping drag a Monroe man from the water after being thrown off the Derby-Shelton Bridge in November 1997 .

“There has to be a balance. Growth is good, but if you are not fixing the infrastructure at the same time to meet the demands, it is not good. It actually comes to the point of being dangerous, and that brings us to this point right here,” added Eldridge, now an independent, or unaffiliated, candidate as he stood in front of the chain link fence blocking access from Wooster Street North to Canal Street over the train tracks.

Eldridge says the limited access to Canal Street and its burgeoning developments is a safety hazard for those residents who reside along that stretch with really only one access, from next to the Derby-Shelton bridge, available for fire and police to get access.

“There is no access to Canal Street from there … it’s blocked,” said Eldridge. “That would need to be opened, before I would approve any projects along Canal Street in the future once I am on the commission.”

Eldridge said, at one time, there were three crossings — Wooster Street North, Maple Street and Brook — over the bridge. The one access at Brook Street was closed when the Boys & Girls Club building was completed, and Maple Street has a sliding gate that can be opened for access. But with the Wooster Street North access permanently closed, Eldridge said the ability to get police and fire to the scene along Canal Street, all while trying to potentially move residents out of the area, is greatly hindered.

“At the very least, there should be a gate here that can be opened, and police and fire should have a key to respond in emergency situations,” said Eldridge. “If there is a fire on Canal Street, there is no real way out. There is no way to fight the fire. Under the (Derby-Shelton) bridge, one car can cause a log jam in that area it is so tight.”

While opening Wooster Street North to Canal Street peeked his interest, Eldridge said the rapid development downtown and along Bridgeport Avenue — much of which without, in his mind, proper corresponding infrastructure improvements — led to his desire to reenter city politics.

Eldridge had been on the Board of Aldermen, serving as a Democrat, for two terms. But he said that he enters this race as an independent, unwilling to battle either town committee for a place on the November ballot as either a Republican or Democrat.

“Some of what I see happening does not sit well with me, and you can’t hit the ball unless up to the plate,” said Eldridge, adding that he supports “smart” development that includes talking to the city officials and builders about improving intersections in areas where new construction would lead to added traffic flow.

Eldridge said his top issue is the safety issues existing with the limited parking along Canal Street, and the fact that emergency vehicles cannot properly evacuate persons and or respond to a fire and any emergency situation in a safe, timely manner. Eldridge said he also plans to look at limiting the Planned Development Districts (PDD) high-density apartment developments.

“I also want to address improvements to our infrastructure,” said Eldridge. “As we develop the Bridgeport Avenue corridor, our attention must be made on improving traffic flow, widening the road, and improve the intersection and/or feeder roads along the corridor.”

Eldridge said he also plans to request a current study on the city’s affordable housing quota and what percentage has been met.

“I thought by joining P&Z I could make the most impact and be able to help,” said Eldridge, when asked why not run for his old alderman seat. “My vision is, when plans come in, is to not just criticize, but also critique, to bring the focus of developers and the city on improving the infrastructure to better handle the growth in certain areas. It is not just about development, but smart development. That’s why I wanted to run.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com