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ConnDOT promises to work with Norwalk for successful Walk Bridge reconstruction

The Connecticut Department of Tranportation's preferred choice of design for a new Walk Bridge. Norwalk would prefer something more iconic. (Courtesy ConnDOT)

The Connecticut Department of Transportation’s preferred choice of design for a new Walk Bridge. Norwalk would prefer something more iconic. (Courtesy ConnDOT)

Correction, 12 a.m., Dec. 13, Lisa Burns is DPW Principal Engineer, not Operations Manager.

NORWALK, Conn. — A new Walk Bridge needs to be just as iconic as the one being demolished, Norwalk officials said in a statement delivered Friday to the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT).

The two other primary concerns listed by Norwalk in its  Impact Statement are the cumulative impacts of simultaneous and copious transportation and development projects, and the socio-economic impacts, with a need to make the losses temporary and rectified.

The good news relayed by the Impact Statement, the culmination on the public comment period on the analysis prepared by ConnDOT, is that ConnDOT is promising to have a “comprehensive dialogue” with Norwalk, beyond what is legally required, before issuing its next recommendations on the Walk Bridge project by the middle of March.

The city sincerely appreciates promises made in a Wednesday letter from Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) Commissioner James Redeker, including additional public meetings, Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola wrote in the Impact Statement, requesting that one be held before a design is chosen.

He also requested written responses to the city’s Impact Statement “before CTDOT selects a design and renders its Record of Decision (‘Record  of Decision’) to conclude this ENEIE process.”

The statement is a formal part of the legal process for the bridge, a response to the Environmental Analysis and Environmental Impact Evaluation (EA/EIE).

Coppola said in November that the goal was to keep ConnDOT from issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), to require that ConnDOT prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. But Coppola and the city are backing down from that stance in its Impact Statement, promising to collaborate with ConnDOT so that a FONSI can allow the project to move forward.

“The City wants to work with CTDOT on the design and development of the projects, and review the mitigation alternatives and measures such that a successful project will be realized, one that everyone will be proud of for many years to come,” Coppola wrote.  “…Please know that under no circumstances is the City attempting to create a situation where the City would be able to hold up this project. But collaboration and dialogue is necessary as well due to the fact that the Walk Bridge Project encompasses many projects and those details and impacts have not been delineated at all.”

“The City is encouraged by our communication with you and your staff that we will work together in order to develop common sense solutions to address the City’s concerns and mitigate the impacts. We understand that many of the City’s questions will be answered once the design advances beyond the preliminary phase set forth in the EA/EIE,” Coppola wrote. “… If the City’s concerns are not adequately addressed, the City does reserve its right to argue and claim that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should be prepared.”

Much of the material in the 109-page Impact Statement was already covered by speakers at the Nov. 17 public hearing.

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The city is seeking mitigation for the property taxes it will lose from businesses being displaced by the project, through the eminent domain process, and tagging the expense at $91,000 a year.

“Temporary Easements will be required on 12 parcels during construction, and six will require displaced uses. What will happen to the displaced uses? Will the property owners be compensated for the temporary loss of use?” Coppola wrote.

“Has the CTDOT prepared any post-construction drawings to show what the areas will visually look like – especially with the removal of the Aquarium’s tensile building?” he wrote, going on to ask about air quality, noise and economic losses.

Among the many supporting exhibits in the statement is one from Maritime Aquarium President Brian Davis, detailing impacts on the Aquarium’s animals.

The meerkat exhibit and the Dragon Exhibit – consisting of nine species of reptiles or aquatic organisms, including a rare Black Dragon (one of only 31 found in the United States) – will have to be moved to the second floor, and the flooring added, he wrote.

“The Aquarium is concerned about reptile mortality before, during and after the move,” Davis wrote.

The 30,000 gallon-Go Fish Exhibit will need to be moved to the former entrance of the Aquarium, currently an outdoor children’s play area, he wrote.

“This move is far more complex (and costly) than the move for the meerkat and Dragon exhibits due to the weight associated with an exhibit of this size as well as the complex filtration and cooling systems necessary for animals to survive such a move and to maintain the animals within the narrow environmental range required for them to thrive after the move,” Davis said.

The harbor seals cannot be moved, he said.

“The sleep and reproductive habits/cycles of the Aquarium’s animals must be considered and taken into account in connection with the proposed construction schedule for all phases of the Project,” Davis wrote, requesting additional, detailed information from ConnDOT.

Department of Public Works Principal Engineer Lisa Burns, in a letter dated June 8, mentioned that Norwalk had set up a Design Review Committee.

Some excerpts:

“The west-side approach span over North Water Street is of enormous historical importance to the City of Norwalk. The lacy steel truss work of the railroad bridges and catenary’s are iconic elements in the South Norwalk Landscape that speak eloquently of this community’s industrial history.   The juxtaposition   of these rail works and the historic mercantile buildings of the historic district, combination with the Maritime Aquarium, have branded this neighborhood as a major tourist destination, and historic resource. The DRC strongly objects to the girder style bridge types being proposed for this span. In lieu of the (presumed) deck girder bridge, the committee unanimously suggests a through truss on the west-side as this area is of important historical and architectural significance and a through truss more closely mitigates the environmental impact of this replacement project in this area. Likewise, for balance, the DRC requests the same through truss on the east-side approach. The conceptual “dressed up” girder options shown at the Public Information meeting are not acceptable substitutes to replace the demolished North Water Street bridge and not in keeping with the historic community’s vision for this area. The DRC also feels that the mass added to the bridge by including a through truss on the east and west approach will help mitigate the overall loss of the iconic high towers being demolished  to accommodate  the bridge’s construction.”

“The DRC’s initial reaction to the main span design, in particular the vertical lift, is the towers should be “as light as possible” in appearance and mass. There is a desire to expose the mechanics of the bridge’s operation and make the inner workings visible.”

“The DSC has reviewed the 60% Danbury Dockyard plans and would like the CTDOT to evaluate the feasibility of including a train stop platform as part of this project There is a potential location for a 4-car train platform that could be located just north of Science Drive by the back side of Stepping Stones. This would service developments on both the north and south sides of l-95.”

“The DRC requests that the bridge design be great, in that it makes South Norwalk a better place. The Brooklyn Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Zakim Bridge (Boston) are examples of infrastructure projects that have positively contributed to their communities. Norwalk deserves no less. The City of Norwalk and its representatives on the review committee look forward to continuing this dialogue throughout the project for the benefit of all involved.”

Other documents are dated this week.

The EA/EIE does not address impacts from “the directly-required high tower line replacement (a $20 million dollar project), the Osborne Avenue bridge replacement, East Avenue bridge replacement and roadway projects, Ann Street bridge replacement, electrification of the Danbury rail line from Washington Street to Jennings Place Crossing, or the rail improvements taking place from Norden Place to the Westport  line,” Burns wrote on Dec. 1. “… The EA I EIE needs to include these projects to correctly determine human environmental impacts, despite the DOT and FTA’s determinations that these other projects can be ‘categorically Excluded’. In addition, the EA / EIE document needs to appreciate, or at least mention, the hundreds of millions of dollars of other construction projects going on within the City by means of both private and public development.  The EA/EIE is devoid of this information.”

“We, the members of the Norwalk Common Council, are deeply disturbed by the absence of context in the EA/EIE documents,” an unsigned letter states.

Some excerpts:

  • “Liberty Square, which is set to become a major staging area for the Walk Bridge Project, is across the street from Veterans Park, which is about to experience a major disruption as the city begins to implement a master plan for the park that includes the construction of new docks and boat ramps. The city is currently experiencing a variety of parking and traffic problems in that area due to the recent opening of the SONO Ice Rink – which is directly across the street from Liberty Square.”
  • “We emphasize the need for the state DOT to consider the overall impact that the Walk Bridge Project will have on the residents of South Norwalk, who are already dealing with the prospects of new schools, the BOE’s need to devise “swing space” during construction, and a variety of other projects that may indeed make travel around the city less than easy.”
  • “We believe the state should seriously address whatever fiscal hardships the city experiences as a direct result of the Walk Bridge Project and that the city should be reimbursed accordingly.”

Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin suggested on Dec. 1 that ConnDOT consider pedestrian and bike access for its new bridge and echoed the concerned about an iconic structure.

“The structure has become more than a bridge it has become a landmark, a point of interest, something that draws attention and notoriety to a location. The new Walk Bridge has the potential to become a new landmark for Norwalk, adding to the skyline and serving as a focal point and economic anchor,” he said.

A business coordination plan is needed, Economic Development Director Elizabeth Stocker wrote in her extensive comments.

“In advance of the start of construction DOT must work directly with City staff to identify and develop a detailed plan for project sequencing so that local motor vehicle, bike, navigation and pedestrian traffic patterns that may be disrupted as a result of the project are identified in real time and adequate mitigation measures are identified and put in place before a disruption occurs,” Stocker wrote.

“The Norwalk Arts Commission formally requests the Walk Bridge project include 1% funding for public art,”  Norwalk Arts Commission Chairwoman Susan Wallerstein wrote.

The exhibits include the Dec. 7 letter from Redeker.

“The EA is scheduled for completion in July 2017,” Redeker wrote. “It is the Department’s intent to have an ongoing dialogue with the City agencies, boards, commissions and key stakeholders groups throughout this timeframe. The Department will address their concerns and collectively discuss possible mitigation and commitments. I anticipate an extensive ongoing dialogue with the City.”

Some issues will be resolved in the EA but others will be resolved as the process continues, he said.

“The Department appreciates the economic vitality of the City and will ensure that the planned transportation improvements don’t affect the significant redevelopment and investment that Is occurring in Norwalk,” Redeker wrote.

“The completion of the environmental planning process is a significant milestone, but it only signifies the beginning of the next stage of the communication and coordination between the Department, the City, and the community,” ConnDOT Manager of Facilities and Transit James Fallon wrote.

“We believe that more analysis is warranted and more in depth study is needed during this EA/EIE stage before CTDOT renders its Record of Decision,” Coppola wrote. “…More work needs to be done and answers provided during this EA/EIE stage before there could reasonably be a basis to render a Finding of No Significant Impact.  The City, as the host community that has to live with the future design of the bridge, deserves no less; the State deserves no less. The City is committed to work with the CTDOT and FTA to efficiently and effectively complete this historically important project.”

3 comments

PIBERMAN December 10, 2016 at 11:29 am

But the essential discussion on maintaining a fixed bridge to minimize disruption and economic cost to the City will not take place. Mayor Rilling has no interest in securing a fixed bridge. Nothing illustrates City Hall’s governance abilities than studied reluctance to hire engineering expertise but no problems in hiring a political Asst Mayor to assist with the upcoming elections. The unfolding Walk Bridge fiasco illustrates the consequences of electing political Mayors and Council members lacking modern business skills/management and further embarrassses th City’s reputation. Norwalk residents are really getting the governance they deserve.

EveT December 10, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Glad to have Mr. Kleppin on board with pedestrian and bike access on the bridge, as well as the aesthetics. Emphasizing that it will be a landmark and point of interest for many decades is really important.

Piberman December 11, 2016 at 10:07 am

Doesn’t take an engineering degree to realize the enormous cost of the dislocation to the City’s economy especially to local firms and displaced residents to see on a cost benefits framework Norwalk comes out the looser. DOT and City politicians are talking about “landmarks” when they should be hiring engineering and development consultants to fully identify the humongous costs identified with the proposed largest public works project in the City’s modern history. No problem with $150,000 for “studying” long vacant Manresa or even hiring an Ass’t Mayor. But studied refusal to hire engineering expertise to advise City options for the bridge speaks volumes. As is ignoring Cong. Himes offer to secure a fixed bridge authorization from the USCG as he did for Bridgeport recently. A determined City Hall representing the real interests of Norwalk’s residents is more than a match for DOT’s quest to erect a questionable billion dollar boondoggle for a State with perpetual billion dollar deficits and persistent Exodus of citizens, jobs and firms. Looks like Norwalk and CT, the nation’s poster child for egregious mismanagement, are dancing together. Surprise !

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