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Barbis: Rowayton Avenue work looks like a done deal

The Rowayton Avenue Metro-North bridge underpass is expected to be lowered if a construction bid is approved by the Common Council Tuesday.

 NORWALK, Conn. – A project to widen Rowayton Avenue at the railroad bridge is up for a vote Tuesday evening after a conversation between city officials and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) apparently failed to produce any alterations to the plan.

The price tag for refusing modifications planned by the state for the Rowayton Avenue railroad bridge underpass would be about $500,000, Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Mike Barbis said Monday. That would be in addition to the $250,000 spent by Norwalk as its part of engineering the project.

Barbis, an opponent of the plan, was at the Thursday meeting. “Mayor (Harry) Rilling said, ‘I don’t think this is a great project but I don’t have $750,000 to cough up,’” Barbis said. “… The mayor really did try but the state was demanding this money.”

Rilling and state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) arranged the meeting with CDOT in reaction to concerns raised by Rowayton residents. The road will be lowered more than a foot under the new railroad bridge, bringing the clearance to 12 feet, 4 inches, although the state’s standard clearance height is 14½ feet, according to Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord.

Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Tammy Langalis is among those speaking out against the plan. Rowayton residents are opposed to it as the scope of the project is not appropriate to a residential road, she said at the last council meeting, where the vote was tabled to allow Rilling time to meet with CDOT.

“That road is not meant for trucks to be going through it,” Zoning Commissioner Nora King said at that same meeting.

“Trailer trucks are not going to be going through there,” Alvord said last week. “They’re 13 feet high.”

The city agreed to the terms two years ago, Alvord said. The state needed to replace the railroad bridge and widened the scope of the project in response to concerns expressed by residents, investing additional money with the understanding that Norwalk would hold up its end of the deal.

“This has gone through 10 years of reviews, various public meetings, various meetings with individual property owners, over and over – multiple resolutions by the council. It’s gone through the process. The bid process is out there, we’ve got bids from contractors. This has got to get done,” Alvord said.

That was the attitude expressed by a matter-of-fact state engineer in the conference held last week at City Hall, Barbis said, who quoted the engineer as saying “We are going to expect a check from Norwalk for $500,000” if the project does not go through.

The new bridge already has gouge marks on its underside, which Alvord said have been caused by trucks scraping under it. The engineer said, “This is our bridge, it’s being damaged, and we need to protect it,” according to Barbis.

Barbis said he told the engineer that people will be speeding through there as a result of the changes. The engineer said that was an enforcement issue, a thought that has been expressed by Common Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E), chairman of the Public Works Committee.

The council will vote on whether to accept a bid for the project at Tuesday’s meeting. It appears to be a fait accompli, Barbis said.

“As the mayor said, this vote is just to sign the contracts. This was approved two years ago. It was a different political environment,” Barbis said.

Barbis said that, according to information presented in last week’s meeting, construction would begin in March or April and be done in December.

Part of the problem with public perception is that the rebuilding of the railroad bridge took five years, Barbis said. “The original project was a disaster,” he said. “No one was ever held accountable.”

The $2.5 million project is 100 percent reimbursable, with 80 percent of that coming from the federal government and 20 percent from the state, Alvord said.

Alvord said sight-line issues need to be fixed under the bridge and complained about “misinformation” regarding the project.

“The road has already been widened under the bridge,” he said. “The rest of it is staying the same or is actually being narrowed.”

11 comments

Lisa Thomson January 27, 2014 at 5:47 pm

So, if traffic and speeds increase and accidents occur (besides the underscraping of the precious bridge) can they go after the bankrupt state of CT for creating the problem in the first place. Of all the things to spend money on…this is surely not it!

spanner January 27, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Who was on the Ct Department of transportation a few years back that worked with our Mayor on this?It was free just like the new regional repair shop Norwalk turned down.Maybe if we had spent some money then we could of without penalty say no now.Maybe a new parking garage would work now that the street will be better.Maybe not.

Oldtimer January 27, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Hard to believe the State DOT is so anxious to spend the money. How do they think they can hold Norwalk accountable for $750,000 if the rest of the road project isn’t completed ? We didn’t ask for any part of this project, did we ? I can’t believe this project means that much to the DOT, or the visiting DOT engineer has the authority to decide one way or the other and threaten to demand that much if the project is not completed. Isn’t the State concerned with cutting expenses ? The mayor should reach out to the governor.

Suzanne January 27, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Who are the concerned Rowayton citizens Mr. Alvord cites that makes this project necessary? If Norwalk has paid its fair share of the studies, the extra $500,000 the state says it needs to pay sounds like extortion. Do any other State Representatives have any juice at all with the CT DOT?

JMB January 27, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Give Alvord and McCarthy credit – they certainly have their talking points memorized. It’s as if they speak from the same script.

Like Suzanne I’d love to know who the concerned citizens are…

Have Hal and Dave knocked on doors along Rowayton Avenue?

And while enforcement may be part of the problem I’m not sure why they think enforcement is going to get better after construction.

Diane C2 January 27, 2014 at 10:48 pm

The money to do Rowayton Avenue coupled with the looming East Avenue projects are another monumental waste of taxpayer money. Period.

H Henry January 28, 2014 at 7:38 am

If, according to Mr Alvord, “the rest of the road is staying the same or being narrowed”, why am I losing a strip of land approximately 8 feet WIDE from the front of my property in order to widen the road???? I live right next to the bridge and I lost that strip of land in order to widen the road – the same one that is staying the same or being narrowed. How dumb does Mr. Alvord think I am?????

As for traffic control, stop signs were put in at the intersection of Belmont and Rowayton several years ago and guess what – 50% of the traffic zooms right through them anyway and no effort has ever been made to control this – i.e., a patrol car sitting in wait on Belmont ready to pursue and ticket the offenders.

Don’t tell me that there will be traffic control measure put into effect. Makes me laugh.

Debora January 28, 2014 at 8:15 am

East Norwalk,
Pay attention. This issue is coming to the railway bridge on East Avenue. The bridge restoration there has also been linked to roadway lowering so we can get “free” state money. This issue has already brought eminent domain to the doorstep of a long time resident of East Norwalk. If you want a say in how this project will affect traffic and businesses from Exit 16 to the cemetery, the time to speak up is now,. You do not want to wait until this is also a “fait accompli”.

spanner January 28, 2014 at 11:44 am

Here is something to consider,was the contract for the road given to a good ole boys club member?If you recall when the new bridge was built in South Norwalk on the Danbury line near Oyster shell park by the city of Norwalk, it was built wrong and the State didn’t accept it until the work was done right.That meant no road under the bridge until Norwalk got it right and our city officials and State reps should of known this otherwise complaining about when they could cut the ribbon and open the road left us thinking it was the fault of the Ct Dot.I give this example of things in the past knowing things now are no better now in some area of concern.I realize no one wants to listen about then but there is a pattern of failures that clearly were not lessons learned.What hasn’t been said is when the Rowayton bridge was designed and built it was done with the underlining thought a truck could hit it head on and bounce off just look at it and compare it to others,the bridge was built to withstand numerous hard hits and that info came from the Ct Dot they are actually proud of this bridge Rowyaton did not get shortchanged on at least the bridge.Norwalk has a history of bridge strikes,one thing was said the city does very little to warn trucks with signs before most of the bridges in Norwalk.Blame whoever but look around if there is no warning until you get to the bridge itself it takes fire and police and resouces to aid in bridge strikes that as far as I know is not billed back to the truck or state.I imagine Rowyaton fire is responsible for that bridge maybe not.All things to consider before the road is built.Only suggestion to Rowayton fire,stock up on speedy dry you will need it once the highway goes in.Any storm drain should be the type to collect oil and gas if not back to the drawing board can’t imagine that wasn’t part of the plan.Anyone?

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