NORWALK, Conn. — The Walk Bridge project is already disrupting life for Norwalk residents.
“Sleep was impossible,” Mary Ann Mahan, a Pine Street resident said Tuesday, describing noise in the wee hours of the morning, that “sounded like a UFO landing” 30 feet from bedroom windows.
It was “maybe 1,000 pile drivers going all at once” and bright lights that made it seem like daylight, she said, attributing this to tree cutting efforts.
Representatives of the Connectictut Department of Transportation spoke from the Concert Hall stage to about 50 people in their 4 p.m. informational session, answering questions and explaining that the massive project is almost to the “60 percent design” phase that they’ve been trying to reach for two years.
The total cost of rebuilding the bridge and completing its related projects is now estimated at $1.16 billion, with the bridge itself being $530 million. About five years of construction are expected, with 22 properties affected and two tracks unusable for the duration. North Water Street will be impacted for 24 to 30 months.
Trees within 25 feet of new tracks or 10 feet of new electrical wires will be cleared, and landscaping reinstalled at the end of construction.
Stacey Epps, ConnDOT project engineer detailed current progress, saying that the overhead wires and track have been removed from the Danbury Branch dockyard area.
River borings from a barge are about to commence and last about a week, officials said. There are also land-side test pits planned this month in five locations, Goldstein Place, Osborne Avenue, East Avenue, Fort Point Street and North Water Street.
A test pile program will monitor noise and vibrations at 11 locations for 3.5 months, first setting a baseline and then testing to verify assumptions and determine the feasibility and performance of the steel pipe and sheet piles for bridge construction.
Demolition is set to begin this summer on the Ann Street bridge, with two road closures of about 50 days required. Work on the CP-243 project, creating a series of switches near Norden Place, is underway with rock excavations and foundation work expected this summer.
ConnDOT has a survey, seeking input from business owners who will be affected.
Erin Mayor, one of Mahan’s Pine Street neighbors, said residents jobs are already being affected as they work from home.
Mahan asked for assurances that ConnDOT not apply for a variance on “such egregious noise levels at such egregious hours of the morning.”
ConnDOT has violated the Norwalk noise ordinance, a neighbor said, with Mahan reporting, “the Health Department has told you to cease and desist,” she said.
“I am not aware of that,” Epps said, explaining that ConnDOT is allowed to produce 90 decibels of noise.
“We govern ourselves, we are also governed by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),” Epps said, citing state statutes.
The neighbor, who declined to identify herself, said GGP had to get approval for work that was less than 90 decibels.
That’s not a state project, Epps said.
“Because it’s government they can do whatever they want?” the woman asked.
“We understand,” ConnDOT Manager of Facilities and Transit James Fallon said, explaining that there are track outages involved with such work and there are limited times when ConnDOT can get access.
“When you are doing a state project there’s different requirements,” Fallon said. “From a rail standpoint, we have to get the work done and try to complete it. We also want to be good neighbors, so I certainly understand the concerns and where you guys are coming from. I think that’s been the debate.”
The debate also continued over a fixed bridge, with Project Manager Christian Brown of HNTB Corporation explaining, as ConnDOT always does, that a fixed bridge does not meet the reasonable needs of navigation demanded by the river’s status as a navigable channel.
“There is nothing that goes up the river that requires 60 feet of vertical clearance,” one man said.
“I am not sure that I agree with that,” Brown replied.
ConnDOT in its PowerPoint presentation said that a fixed bridge would require six to 16 months of additional construction time, with the two-track rail outage lasting 51 months and water navigation restricted for four years. Costs would go up for re-establishing water dependent use.
Another resident brought up environmental contamination in the riverbed, stemming from the former landfill, asking if the test results would be published.
ConnDOT doesn’t typically release that information, Fallon said.
The wetland sites are still being designed, and “depending on contaminants we may alter the design to avoid anything that’s undesirable,” ConnDOT project manager John Hanifin said.
A Washington Street resident asked if he could expect four years of nightly work.
“We are still working on the hours of operation,” Fallon said. “…We haven’t specifically determined exactly the hours of operation during that two-track outage but we’ll be doing a significant amount of work during the day, as we manage having two tracks that are out. There are obviously limitations as far as working close to the railroad. At night, we will be doing a fairly significant amount of work but… that’s still to be determined.”
Third Taxing District Commissioner Deb Goldstein asked if ConnDOT would provide real time data about noise. Fallon said they’d take that into consideration.
Goldstein also suggested that ConnDOT think about low-income residents who can’t access the Internet, with customer service not available at night. She asked about business interests and possible mitigations beyond the Department of Community and Economic Development (DECD) funds available through the Redevelopment Agency.
There’s certainly pockets of need for business mitigation, and plans will be developed with an option available to adjust the construction, Fallon said.
“Right now there’s no financial offset in terms of the businesses,” Fallon said. “I am glad that you mentioned DECD, we are working in coordination with them.”
Goldstein said that the Third Taxing District had been keeping tabs on property takings yet was surprised to hear that additional property was being taken on Fort Point Street, and asked if more should be expected.
“We were pretty upfront on this,” Fallon said, explaining that a list had been provided in the Environmental Assessment.
“That’s atypical, I would say,” he said. “Fort Point, that was something that was going on within the project team as far as the realignment… Right now, we are almost at 60 percent and really in terms of what I would characterize as significant property impacts have been identified. There could be some partial areas, some sloping or construction access, or easement or something like that but I think for the time being we are pretty well mapped out.”