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DOTzilla takes East Norwalk

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To the Editor:

The State of Connecticut has created a monster. Nurtured and nourished in the radioactivity of federal transportation funds, it is stomping its way across the state, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you—DOTzilla—the DOT being Connecticut’s Department of Transportation.

This hulking behemoth is laying waste to people, property, businesses and neighborhoods, and like its nearly unstoppable name-sake, our state legislators and executive branch appear to have no ability to control this beast.

ConnDOT is quite literally knocking down buildings, and seizing businesses in its zeal to “improve” transportation infrastructure. In one case a homeowner who tried to fight eminent domain died in the effort.

The most recent chapter in this saga…DOTzilla vs MileageTaxsaurus…has ConnDOT spending $300,000 on the study of a solution every last human being in the state believes is dead on arrival. State lawmakers on one side of the aisle are busy soliciting the public’s help to stop the study, even as the other side of the aisle is releasing a steady stream of assurances along the lines of “Read my lips…it ain’t gonna happen!”

While efforts to improve communications with ConnDOT, such as the link Senator Duff put on his State Senate website are appreciated, they miss the point entirely. Communication is not an end unto itself, especially when it is having little to no effect on ConnDOT’s decision-making process. Chairman Redeker had no problem communicating his veto to the residents of East Norwalk in a letter, even though they have been communicating displeasure with a plan to lower East Avenue to accommodate large trucks through its tiny main street for the last twenty years.

The controversial projects follow a well-worn path, with public hearings, open letters to various state employees and elected officials, crowds of protesting citizens and press conferences. Emails to various stake-holders blaze across the internet, like the useless missiles used to try to take the monster down. Law-makers express consternation on both sides of the aisle, write stern letters to ConnDOT and lament that meetings with ConnDOT are met with a wrecking ball.

What is the citizenry supposed to make of all of this? The fact is that our legislators do not appear to have a weapon large enough to take down this beast. Our own transportation fund pales in comparison to funds from the federal government that are fueling the rampage. Though we own the rails, stations and equipment that run on the Connecticut portion of the Metro-North railroad, we have no members on its board and no local rights of way when it comes to railroad projects.

Even now, the script is being written for another blockbuster (no pun intended), as ConnDOT prepares to replace the Walk bridge that straddles the river in between South Norwalk and East Norwalk. On September 7th at 10 am, citizens will converge on 10 Goldstein Place to hold a press conference. They will protest the monster that is bearing down on home-owners, business-owners, a portion of a beloved museum and the neighborhoods that depend on them, while it blows an oversized hole in its own budget with its atomic breath—a $465 million dollar price tag has mutated to $1 billion dollars.

Is there nobody who can stop DOTzilla?

Debora Goldstein

Debora Goldstein is a Commissioner of the Third Taxing District of the City of Norwalk, representing East Norwalk

9 comments

EveT August 31, 2016 at 2:09 pm

I hope the Maritime Aquarium board of directors is also in on this. I think people will rally more to save the IMAX theater than anything else.

Bill NIghtingale Jr August 31, 2016 at 2:51 pm

good letter Debora.

I agree the Walk Bridge is out of control. $1bn of taxpayer money to be spent and to tear up our town for 5 years…? NO THANKS. If they can’t make the existing bridge work just leave it shut and save a billion bucks!

The people upstream do not have a god given right to a drawbridge. There has to be a cost benefit analysis at some point.

We should all be vigorously protesting this waste of government resources.

Isabelle Hargrove August 31, 2016 at 3:42 pm

The state’s actions are scandalous. Once again, common-sense and affordability is not part of the equation. Norwalk is the victim of DOT engineers and politicians only concerned with securing their legacy and competing for biggest “bridge” award.

DOTzilla should be stopped by Senator Duff and Mayor Rilling. Unfortunately, they seem unwilling or incapable to do so. This is a time where Norwalk would have needed strong leadership from individuals who do not hesitate to lead the charge to protect their constituents instead of hiding behind a smile, a sympathetic ear or a social photo-op.

Norwalk has voted for Senator Duff for the last 14 years while asking for nothing in return – Sorry 9 cents… Now we get 9 cents and a $1B bridge, what a deal!

Debora August 31, 2016 at 5:23 pm

@ Bill Nightingale Jr,

Thank you. To be fair, the decision to repair the bridge is not in response to the needs of the upriver businesses. The river is designated by the Feds as a navigable waterway, and neither the state, nor the city has the right to alter the rights that result. As our former harbormaster has pointed out in many public meetings, all of the potential future uses are in play–not just the ones we know about today.

I know some folks have been in touch with federal officials about changing that so we have the option of a fixed bridge, but I have not heard any progress on this front.

What I am really worried about is ConnDOT’s casual disregard for the alterations they make to our neighborhoods as they take home after home, and business after business in connection with transportation projects. The state took two private homes and a small bakery in East Norwalk and left a dangerously untended moonscape, where people park illegally and children play at their peril.

As soon as the decision was made, plans were drawn up for a parking lot, with no regard for what the City might need, or the neighborhood might want. Remember, this was private property taken with your tax money.

It’s interesting that the City and ConnDOT have been playing nice, until DOTzilla started stepping on DPW toes. Now a Department head is asking the public to help them too. (https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2016/08/norwalk-task-force-demands-project-manager-as-dpw-leader-begs-for-help-with-conndot/)

Jlightfield August 31, 2016 at 7:04 pm

Having the upper harbor removed from the list of federal navigable channels would be a start in the right direction. Remove the need for the coast guard’s jurisdiction and suddenly a fixed bridge solution is back in play.

Debora August 31, 2016 at 7:15 pm

@ Jackie,

Exactly. Not sure our local leadership has tried to make the case. It site would save a heck of a lot of money.

Lisa Thomson September 1, 2016 at 1:09 pm

Local leadership can’t even come together to staff the P&Z board, I have no faith they will come together to challenge the state. Lame charter revisions that benefit them appears to be their ‘cone together moment’ and their top priority this election season. Wake up voters.

Debora September 1, 2016 at 3:02 pm

I do know there have been efforts to speak to federal level officials about removal from the list, but it is my belief that those contacts have all been by citizen activists. People who are concerned should make an effort to come to the rally at 10 Goldstein Place on September 7th at 10 am. It is being hosted by the East Norwalk Business Association, which is something I should have mentioned in my letter. Perhaps local leadership will be on hand to explain their efforts on behalf of East Norwalk residents and businesses.

Isabelle Hargrove September 1, 2016 at 7:20 pm

It is, unfortunately, a recurring theme in Norwalk. Citizens left to fend for themselves against the state and the Federal Government without the benefit of their elected representatives’ help and leadership. What have Jim Himes, Bob Duff and Harry Rilling tangibly done? They are merely passive observers who do not seem to be able to take a stand and fight for what they believe is in the interest of our town. Are they too afraid to make enemies in higher places than Norwalk or to be cornered into having to take sides?

In the meantime, here is a picture of Norwalk’s future. An over-the-top monument to big government. It is predictably enormous and ugly. After years of construction chaos, closed businesses and the loss of our best attraction in town, we will be left with a shrine to DOT and more than a $1B in the whole. Thank you sirs…

http://www.walkbridgect.com/

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