Last week, the Department of Transportation (DOT) provided an update on the Walk Bridge project at City Hall. Present were the Mayor and his staff, State Senator Bob Duff, State Representative Bruce Morris and ourselves.
Below are our observations and recommendations:
The DOT is committed to building the Lift bridge alternative. In particular, the DOT prefers the 240 foot Vertical Lift Span encompassing two lift towers.
There is a huge gap between Norwalk community opinion and the DOT Lift Span alternative. One constantly hears the refrain around town that the DOT should simply weld the current bridge shut. While the DOT has engaged in community outreach, clearly more listening is needed.
We recommend that Norwalk engage an independent Peer Review of the DOT plans. While the DOT has many top-notch engineers, they are not local. Given the disconnect with Norwalk community opinion, the City should engage an independent Engineering Peer Review, and make these findings available to the public.
At a $1 billion total price tag, can the State afford this project? Our State’s fiscal crisis keeps getting worse. Given our fiscal reality, perhaps the DOT should revisit all of its Walk Bridge assumptions from a cost value perspective.
The Maritime Aquarium IMAX theatre will be demolished and used as a construction area. In exchange the Aquarium is expected to get a new theatre built on the other side.
We believe that Norwalk should receive at least three compensation projects for incurring the entire construction burden on behalf of the Northeast Corridor. New Haven received compensation for the Q Bridge project – so should Norwalk. Two good places to start would be the Wall Street train station and new bike/walk trails.
Our biggest overall concern is Norwalk’s becoming one big construction zone. In addition to the Walk Bridge, there will be the GGP Mall, Washington Village, Wall Street, additional Waypointe projects, the Yankee Doodle Bridge, and the East Avenue Bridge. If mismanaged, Norwalk could end up looking like the current Wall Street. We must not allow this to happen. Therefore the Walk Bridge alternative needs both the shortest construction schedule, and the lowest construction risk. The DOT should get out of Norwalk as quickly as possible and inflict the least amount of damage.
The federal waterway is a poor reason to choose a Bridge alternative. It appears the DOT wants Norwalk to have a federally navigable harbor north of the Walk Bridge more than Norwalk does. An honest assessment of the northern waterway acknowledges the entire area is gentrifying and that the old industrial uses are fading out. Maintaining the northern area for barges and large boats is more about the past and less about the future.
We must keep the greater good in mind when we advocate. While we advocate for our community interests, we must be mindful that the New Haven line carries more than 40 million riders per year. A Walk Bridge failure would imperil the entire Northeast Corridor. We must accept this broader reality and focus our advocacy on solutions that work for all.
Fred Wilms is the State Representative for the 142nd district, which encompasses Norwalk and New Canaan.
Gail Lavielle is the State Representative for the 143rd district, which encompasses Norwalk, Westport, and Wilton.