(Update: This item was pulled from tonight’s agenda by request of Mayor Harry Rilling. Rilling and Sen. Bob Duff have requested a meeting with the state to discuss the project. See separate story.)
By Mike Mushak
To the editor:
The Common Council will be voting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night, Jan. 14, to approve or deny a poorly designed and unnecessary $2.8 million dollar project (wasting precious federal, state, and local taxpayer dollars) to widen and lower Rowayton Avenue to interstate highway width for 800 feet north of the Rowayton Train Station.
The public may speak at 7:30.
This is a wasteful boondoggle that ignores the wishes of the community, and will turn Rowayton Avenue into a busy speeding truck route by widening the quaint and narrow country road and lowering the roadway under the bridge to allow for large trucks that currently have other alternatives without any issues.
The argument that emergency vehicles need this clearance is moot, as most of them fit under the current 11-foot clearance, and there are many other routes that are even faster, including on Highland and Wilson avenues. The large hook and ladder does not fit now, but it is rarely (if ever) needed in low-rise Rowayton, and even if it is, the Highland Avenue route is faster from its home near Exit 14.
Any drainage issues that need addressing can easily be handled under small separate contracts.
Ironically, this project will actually worsen safety as it will clearly increase speeds in an area that currently has a 25 mph speed limit, exactly what you don’t want to do in a residential neighborhood with many children and near a train station busy with pedestrians.
The main reason being given to lower the road for 800 feet is to remove a very slight “hump” that does not reduce visibility at all except at high speeds, already prohibited in this 25 mph zone. There is no accident history here, according to the Norwalk Police Department, to support these dubious “safety improvements” on a road that has a natural traffic-calming profile already built into it, the same as almost every other road in hilly Norwalk that we all happily live with (we are not flat like Kansas). There certainly will be an accident history here if this project is built, so why are we doing this?
This project is also clearly not a “Context-Sensitive Solution” (CSS), which is a modern best-practices approach now used by smart transportation planners around the country, that takes a practical approach to transportation decision-making that includes the potential impact of any project on its aesthetic surroundings and community interests. This is supported by the fact that few, if anyone, in the community currently support this project, since community leaders originally asked for a wider and safer bridge only (which is already completed), and better pedestrian connections using footpaths south of the station, which is not part of this project despite decades of requests.
Any concern for “truck strikes” on the bridge because of the existing 11-foot clearance (the same height, coincidentally, that Darien now has after their new bridge replacement on the very busy Route 1), could simply be addressed with better warning signage in the surrounding area, which is currently inadequate.
This project will also destroy the existing stone walls and tall trees that give the area the special historic charm that most folks cherish in that area.
Why is Councilman Dave McCarthy, chair of the Public Works Committee, and our DPW pushing for this expensive boondoggle when the community clearly doesn’t want it, and there is no official safety data or a pressing need for truck or emergency access to support it? We must demand from Mr. McCarthy and other city leaders that our taxpayer-funded transportation projects all over Norwalk follow smart CSS principals, including the planned East Avenue and Wall Street “improvement” projects that are currently suffering from an acute lack of transparency and proper community input and review, similar to what happened with this project.
This broken process must be fixed, now.
The priority for our hard-working and dedicated city staff should be essential projects only, to improve many of our existing streets and sidewalks that are in bad shape, and adding new sidewalks where needed. This project is the proverbial “hitting the fly with the hammer” engineering approach that we simply can’t afford in this era of fiscal austerity by government at all levels.
Please show up at the meeting Tuesday night to let the Council and Mayor Rilling know what you think.