NORWALK, Conn. – The crux of the matter could be summed up in seven words, according to Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Tammy Langalis: Don’t turn Rowayton Avenue into Route 1.
Langalis was referring to the reconstruction of Rowayton Avenue under and north of the Metro-North bridge, a project that will go ahead if Common Council members vote Tuesday to accept a bid from a construction company. While Langalis and others said many Rowayton residents think the plan will make the road less safe, the problem is the city made a deal with the state years ago and now it’s time to live up to it, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said.
Alvord said at last week’s Public Works Committee meeting that it’s possible the project could be subject to minor revisions but, if the city backs out, the state could conceivably ask the city to pay back the money that was spent to reconstruct the Metro-North bridge.
Common Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said he thought of the project as a boondoggle two years ago, the last time it came up for a vote. But, “I have reservations about revisiting an item two years later after everything has been done,” he said.
Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) agreed.
“The time to fight the changes would have been two years ago before taking the state money,” he said. “I have a hard time rejecting at this stage. It doesn’t work that way.”
The plans call for widening the road north of the bridge and lowering the road under the bridge.
Rowayton residents asked the city to widen the road south of the bridge and put in sidewalks for pedestrians walking to the train from the center of town, Common Councilman John Igneri (D-District E) said.
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.
“The improvement of the roadway was one of the conditions the state had for the widening of the bridge,” Alvord said. “This was supposed to be done as a complete project. They spent several million extra on widening the bridge on the commitment that the city would make the improvements in the roadway.”
Igneri asked if the money could be spent on sidewalks for the south side. Alvord said that could be done later, but this money was earmarked for the north side.
Lowering the road will improve the vertical sight lines for drivers, Alvord said. There’s an additional issue – the state would like this done as soon as possible because vehicles are hitting the underside of the new bridge.
“There’s a safety issue just from the vehicles passing underneath,” he said.
The state would have replaced the old bridge without modifications if the city had not asked for improvements, he said. The standard height is 14½, feet but the state agreed to a 12-foot, 4-inch clearance, he said.
He was not aware that the Darien railroad bridge was rebuilt two years ago with a clearance of 10 feet, 8 inches, information supplied by Langalis.
“That’s a state roadway with big buses and everything,” she said. “It’s hard for me to fathom why Rowayton Avenue, which is not a state road and it’s in a neighborhood, why it needs to be more than it is. I understand it’s a sight issue, but its so little compared to Route 1 in Darien where there’s a stop light and traffic crossing in every direction. We need to think about the scale of Rowayton Avenue versus the scale of Route 1. … We don’t want it to be Route 1.”
Igneri said the changes will encourage speeding. Plus, “You come out the south side and suddenly the road narrows down. I think it will be more dangerous for the pedestrian if suddenly the road narrows,” he said.
“Reasonable people can come to different conclusions, and personally, given the way the hill slopes up so that your lights are hitting the train until you come down, I would take almost virtually exactly what you just said and come to the completely opposite conclusion that if I slid on the ice under the bridge today and somebody came up over that hill and had no ablity to see me whatsoever until they came down, even if they were going the speed limit, I’d most likely be – bing.”
Igneri pushed for a change to the language of the resolution. He got one, but not what he was hoping for.
Igneri wanted to approve the project “contingent” upon studying modifications to the plan. The item on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting reads, “approval of this line item is provided that a committee is created to study possibilities to modify the project in order to simultaneously address the safety issues and the concerns of the community.”
“Reasonable changes will be considered,” McCarthy said.
The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.