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DPW director defends Rowayton project, promises bike lane

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The hill north of the Rowayton Avenue railroad bridge will be lowered three feet as part of work agreed to by the city two years ago.

Updated, 10 p.m., height of CL&P line truck added. 

NORWALK, Conn. – The director of Norwalk’s Department of Public works has comforting words for people who think the work planned for Rowayton Avenue will increase the number of speeders on what is, in some ways, a bucolic country road.

“We’re going to use some landscaping which has the tendency to slow people down. We’re looking at the radar thing that tells you how fast you’re going,” Hal Alvord said as he explained that the road is not being appreciably widened but there will be room for a bike lane on one side when it is done.

The project, the finishing touch on alterations that were requested more than a decade ago, will lower the hill north of the railroad station by three feet to improve the sight lines for drivers. That will also slow them down, Alvord said, as they will see the bridge sooner. The road north of the bridge will be narrowed from 32 feet to 28 feet. The road south of the bridge will be widened from 26 feet just south of Caroline Court to 28 feet, to make the stretch uniform.

Opponents of the project, which received final approval by the Common Council last week, say it goes much further than residents originally requested. They got the wider space under the railroad bridge that they wanted but not the sidewalks to allow people to walk there from downtown Rowayton. Lowering the road under the bridge will encourage truck drivers to use the stretch, they say.

Alvord and Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) said there was a misinformation campaign before last week’s council meeting.

“There will be no widening,” McCarthy said at the council meeting. Tractor trailers will not have access to Rowayton via the road as the railroad bridge will not have enough clearance, he said.

McCarthy’s speech is in the video below. The accidents he references are listed in the story here.

Some speakers at the meeting said the project did not take the historic nature of the neighborhood into account.

“We have documents from the state historical preservation office and the DOT (Connecticut Department of Transportation) that all of the historical reviews that were required were done. In fact, we did archaeological excavations in the area,” Alvord said.

Neighbors of the train station have been traumatized by the seven-year project to widen the roadway under the bridge, which was done at night, Alvord said. This project will take one construction season and may even be done by Thanksgiving, he said. The construction will be done during the day.

“Rondano (Inc.) has good plans to do the walls and everything first so it won’t disrupt traffic, and then, when they get that done, they can minimize the amount of time it takes to do the roadwork,” he said.

Alvord said solar-powered speed monitors will be permanently installed in the vicinity of Arnold Lane, the project’s northern limit, to draw attention to the speed limit. Based on past experience, speeders going over a set point – maybe 45 miles per hour – will be told simply to slow down instead of being told how fast they are going, which is seen by some as a reward or a challenge, Alvord said.

“We could petition for a reduction in the speed limit on the north side, same as on the south side,” he said.

But, he said, “There’s no speeding going on there right now. The police have gone out there and sat there from time to time and haven’t tagged anybody.”

The road needs to be lowered because, when it was widened, it was necessary to put thicker steel beams in the bridge, reducing the height clearance, he said. Trucks have hit the bottom. Those are the type of trucks that have been going in and out of Rowayton for years, he said. The “normal deliveries” include box trucks bringing furniture in and, now, Peapod trucks from Stop ‘n Shop. Connecticut Power and Light (CL&P) line trucks cannot get under the bridge at present, he said.

The height clearance was 12 feet. It is now 11 feet. It will be 12 feet, 4 inches. Alvord said a tractor-trailer needs 13 feet. Mitch Gross of CL&P confirmed Alvord’s comment about line trucks – they need 12 feet of clearance.

The grading needs to be leveled out so trucks aren’t approaching the bridge at such a slant, Alvord said. DOT specs call for two 12-foot lanes and two two-foot curbs, he said. The city will put in striping to make a bike lane on one side, he said.

The construction project was approved two years ago. Last week’s vote was to authorize the construction company to do the work.

The federal government is paying for 80 percent of the work and the state is paying for 20 percent. The state agreed to widen the bridge on the condition that the city modify the road in the manner described above. The state would have demanded $500,000 back if the city backed out, Alvord said.

Not going ahead would also have cost the city good will in Hartford, Alvord said.

Norwalk has gotten more than $49 million over the past 10 years in state and federal grants for infrastructure projects, he said.

“One of the reasons that we have been able to get those funds is that when our mayor signs an agreement they know that the city is committed, that the city follows through on its commitment and they know that we’re going to get the project done in an efficient manner.”

Nothing but good things are coming out of the project, he said.

“When this project is complete, people are going to look at it and say ‘wow, that looks nice,’” he said.

10 comments

YankeeC February 3, 2014 at 6:29 am

Wow, the spin is unbelievable. McCarthy had said the project would be done by September, now Alvord is saying “may even be done by Thanksgiving”? And the project hasn’t even started yet.

Nancy, please ask for copies of the historic reviews that Alvord is saying were done. Could you post?

And residents would be beg to differ with Alvord on “There’s no speeding going on there right now. The police have gone out there and sat there from time to time and haven’t tagged anybody.” The police must have been at another railroad station ….

Diane C2 February 3, 2014 at 7:49 am

Can East Norwalkers assume that our bridge clearance won’t be any higher than 12’2″ when DOT and city complete our project? – Ours is the next taxpayer waste of money – engineering gone wild. Due up in the next two years, and likely followed by Mr. Alvord’s next over-engineered waste of taxpayer money – the widening of US 1 from Cross to North to East. If Mr. Alvord and the state could ever figure out how to time the lights, and have opposing left turn signals, probably wouldn’t have any congestion problems there.

H Henry February 3, 2014 at 8:13 am

I’m not real sure what Mr. Alvord is looking at, BUT Stop & Shop Peapod trucks as well as WB Mason, FedEx, UPS, etc all get under the bridge with ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEM. As mentioned before, I live next door to the bridge and see them with my very own eyes. What is he looking at??? Another mis-statement of information by Mr. Alvord.

Mike Mushak February 3, 2014 at 9:09 am

There was no misinformation campaign. The misinformation came directly from Alvord and McCarthy, as it continues to do in this very article. We had been fed repeated misinformation on the need for the project from accident data (there were no serious accidents in 17 years to justify the project, just run of the mill driver error like bumped mirrors, parking lot fender taps, and two accidents where ice was not treated properly by the city, as reported here on NON with official reports).
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We were also told there were emergency vehicle access issues (there were none, except for the hook and ladder that has shorter and faster routes if it is ever needed at all in low-rise Rowayton).
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And we were told there were visibility issues because of the hump in the road, which it turns out currently allows a safe “sight stopping distance” over double the federal requirement at the current speed limit of 25, and it even works fine at 40 mph.
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The visibility issue was in the other direction from the busy north station entrance, caused by the former narrow bridge, which has already been fixed. Even there, not a single accident in 17 years can be attributed to visibility issues in either direction.
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We were told there were truck strike issues, but there was only one truck strike in 17 years, which probably caused the scratches on the new bridge, and that was by a 13 ft high truck that would still have hit the new bridge ht of 12 feet. .
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The we were told this project is fully reimbursable, as Alvord claims again in this article, but which contradicts his own claims as recently as last week that landscaping and city staff supervisory time is not, an amount that can easily reach into the hundreds of thousands as other projects the community wants and needs are neglected, like new and improved footpaths all over Rowayton.
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This is McCarthy and Alvord’s strategy on every screwed-up project they are responsible for, including the dangerous and out of code Beach Road sharrows (that were put in over public objection to that scheme that contradicted the safe bike lanes proposed in 3 separate studies costing taxpayers almost $1 million), or the Seaview Avenue fiasco near Overton’s that resulted in Mayor Moccia’s friends at the yacht clubs getting illegal angled parking that forces children into the middle of the road into speeding traffic).
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The latest fiasco is the screwed-up bike lanes on Strwawberry Hill, which were not done to code and endanger children every day, all because of a fatal mistake to preserve a parking lane that no cars ever actually park in (you can see this anytime day or night).
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The biggest issues we now face by our DPW acting alone and with little regard for the public is the mysterious widening of East Avenue near the train station, which Alvord had refused to cooperate with concerned members of the public with in a mysterious and frustrating process (the state is taking property at the same time the city claims they know nothing about the project), and the fatal mistake to reject the $200,000 Connectivity Study recommending a modern and safe solution with bike lanes and a road diet on West Avenue between Mathews Park and Wall Street, which the public worked on for 3 years with the nationally respected consultant.
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McCarthy and Alvord keep claiming that members of the public deceptively claimed tractor trailer trucks would now use Rowayton Ave with the higher bridge clearance, but that is just not true, as no one ever made that claim. The claim was made that Rowayton Ave would get busier with trucks, and they would go faster at the station area with the new road design that will encourage speeding as the current layout acts like a natural speed calming
feature.
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The claim has also not been made by project opponents that speeding is currently an issue, although the post above differs on that opinion, and perhaps traffic calming is needed now without the need to lower the roadway for 800 feet which will surely speed up traffic as any engineer can tell you. Alvord and McCarthy have both acknowledged this fact that the new project will increase vehicle speeds , by their statements that increased speed enforcement will be needed after the project is done. If the project was designed to slow traffic, which it clearly is not, then why would they repeatedly claim we will need more speed enforcement after it’s done?
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Now we find out for the first time in this article, with zero public review or feedback, that a single bike lane will be installed at the bridge. This is crazy! Federal standards require that bike “facilities”, meaning bike lanes or sharrows, ALWAYS be installed in both directions. Folks never ride their bikes in inly one direction, as they would never be able to return safely. IRS common sense, and is reflected in the $600,000 of taxpayer-funded expert studies from the last few years that show a safe 3 mile bike and pedestrian corridor from Fox Run School, north of the community college on Richards, past the train station on Rowyton Ave. and down to the waterfront at Cudlipp. These studies clearly show “sharrows”, or shared lane markings,in BOTH directions on Rowayton Ave, and bike lanes in BOTH directions further north on Richards where there is room.
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These studies also show new footpaths and sidewalks to fill the gaps on this entire corridor, including the crucial missing link from the train station south to Cudlipp which the community has been requesting for decades with no response or solutions from the city. Why would Alvord now ignore these studies, and federal standards, and propose a bike lane on only ONE side of the road?
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That is why we need to take back public control of these projects immediately!

Bruce Kimmel February 3, 2014 at 10:20 am

Excellent story. Good reporting. I would like to add that the Council’s public works committee will monitor the project at every one of its monthly meetings, beginning tomorrow night; that the subcommittee of residents that was created a month ago will continue to monitor the project and work with the Council; and that we have already agreed to fund construction of additional sidewalks in the vicinity of the bridge.

Mike Mushak February 3, 2014 at 10:47 am

In the third paragraph from the bottom, a line should read “It is common sense, not “IRS common sense”. The iPhone spellcheck is tricky, and I missed it while typing at a cafe table having Monday morning coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans while it snows back in CT, not to rub it in or anything!

JMB February 3, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Alvord said, “There’s no speeding going on there right now. The police have gone out there and sat there from time to time and haven’t tagged anybody.”

I might suggest the police come around rush hour, particularly in the morning. I’m fairly certain they could generate some serious cash by ticketing speeders and those who run the stop sign.

irishgirl February 3, 2014 at 3:06 pm

There is a letter dispelling the myths of Rowayton Avenue on the Hour’s website —
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I wonder why McCarthy didn’t have the kahoonahs to mail that letter to NoN???

Debora February 3, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Can we assume that the state will be equally honorable with the city when it VOTES DOWN a rights of way agreement, as it did with respect to the East Ave project,?
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Or will the prospect of “free” state money override the clear objections of the residents who actually live and operate businesses here in East Norwalk?

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