Some Norwalkers call the replacement of the Walk Bridge a “billion-dollar boondoggle.” It’s even become a talking point amongst those who have opposed this project at every turn. It might be politically advantageous for me to jump on the bandwagon of the vocal minority and call for a stop to this plan. However, I have spent a lot of time learning about this project, its impact on Norwalk, and have concluded that a moveable bridge is the most effective and least disruptive option.
This is not a “billion-dollar bridge” as some like to claim. The Walk Bridge Program, which includes replacement of the deteriorating Walk Bridge and other critical infrastructure improvement projects, totals $1.2 billion. Of that, the replacement of the Walk Bridge itself is $511 million — not cheap — but a far cry from the billion-dollar tagline.
The other half of the program funding is for projects such as the replacement of railroad bridges at Ann Street, Fort Point Street, East Avenue, and Osborne Avenue, in addition to roadway improvements at each site. This work also entails improvements to the East Norwalk Train Station, such as extended platforms to accommodate more train cars, increased commuter and handicapped parking, and ADA elevators. These projects are vitally important not just for Norwalk or the state, but also for the entire Northeast Corridor that millions of people rely on every year.
I would be happy if everything could stay as-is, and the bridge didn’t need to be fixed. That would be great, but it just isn’t the case. There is no denying the Walk Bridge needs to be fixed. It’s sitting on wooden pilings with mechanisms on the verge of failure. Inaction or delay could lead to an inoperable and unsafe bridge that would be shut down, meaning the 125,000 daily train riders would be shuttled through Norwalk to cross the river to board another train, or would choose to drive, creating more traffic on our local roads and highways. That is not acceptable.
Additionally, changing the design to a fixed bridge or “hitting the pause button,” as some suggest, will increase the duration of the project. Any delay to the Walk Bridge portion itself will not stop other components moving forward. Instead of five years, think about 10 years of disruption in Norwalk because these projects won’t be completed concurrently. Also, delaying this project means the loss of federal Hurricane Sandy funds that account for $144 million of the overall program funding, which would shift the burden onto Connecticut taxpayers.
The latest focus on a navigable waterway designation, which is not as simple as some describe, is just the latest attempt to distract from the real issue we should be discussing: How can this project be completed quickly with the least amount of disruption? Which is: the current design.
With all this said, I believe a movable bridge and a federally designated navigable waterway is essential for our city. Having a fixed bridge, and thus removing that designation, would be shortsighted and restrict a prime area of Norwalk from future opportunities. The waterfront is a defining characteristic of Norwalk, which is desirable to residents, businesses, and tourists.
The new bridge must function for another century, and while it opens and closes a certain number of times now, that may change in the future. We do not know what opportunities will present themselves over the next 100 years, but we do know letting the river become a marsh will stop the expansion of the Harbor Loop Trail, limit many water-dependent land uses, and decrease access to the city from the water. Knowingly putting a plan in place that would hinder this potential growth is wrong. I support this program and the benefits it will bring to Norwalk well into the future.