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Opinion: Movable Walk Bridge is the best option for Norwalk

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling.

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.

14 comments

Jason Milligan March 3, 2019 at 10:09 am

Where’s the beef?

That opinion piece is a big nothing burger.

Please justify the “billion dollar boondoggle”.

2 sailboats and 1 viable business need the bridge to move. Calculate the cost per lift up of the bridge.

Spending others people money is easy. To spend a billion of oir money you need to give a better justification than this.

Piberman March 3, 2019 at 10:23 am

The overwhelming majority of City residents object to the Boondoggle Bridge supported by Mayor Rilling for obvious reasons. It’s the largest public works project in the City’s modern history bringing absolutely no economic benefit. Just tens if not hundreds millions of costs to our City over several years turning our Downtown upside down. No wonder Mayor Rilling refuses to hire consultants to identify the true costs of this Boondoggle project.

Early on Cong. HImes offered to changed the navigation st atus of the uptown shallow river allowing a fixed bridge. Neither of CT’s two major harbor based industrial cities (Briidgeport and New Haven) have movable railroad bridges. Nor does Stamford. So why Norwalk ?
Is it because Developers see profit building condos/apartments along the updown stream ?

No other Mayor in the City’s modern history has been so wrong on such a major issue as Mayor Rilling. Given the hard times facing our City – decade long stagnant Grand List, falling property values, exodus of long time homeowners, influx of renters, punitive taxes one would think a City Mayor would represent City residents here. Not a misguided DOT.
If Mayor Rilling can’t represent our City’s demand on this Boondoggle project then step down.

Mayor Rilling’s claim that its “too late” to consider a sensible fixed bridge alternative is specious. Our currentf fixed bridge works fine in the fixed position. And DOT from the beginning has never considered a fixed bridge. Just full steam on the Boondoggle.

In a State desperately short of funds facing a nearly $2 billion budget spending upwards of a billion dollars on an unnecessary 210 foot high lift bridge is just unfathomable. Lets encourage Gov. Malloy to call up Cong. Himes, get the navigation status change and get on with the business of making a City where our City employees actually want to live and one that encourages homeowners, not just renters, live and retire here.

Mayor Rilling often says he loves his native City. And enjoys being Mayor. So its time to make the right decision on the Boondoggle Bridge and leave a lasting positive Legacy. Not a Legacy of supporting a Boondoggle Bridge that brings no benfits to our City.

Mitch Adis March 3, 2019 at 10:24 am

This is a joke! “We do not know what opportunities will present themselves over the next 100 years,”. This is why you plan. Set a developement plan for the area north of the bridge. We can have a walkable waterfront with housing, retail, entertainment and more. If we continue down the current path we will have a dilapidated industrial area 100 years from now too.

caro; March 3, 2019 at 10:27 am

you are so right Jason,wonder how many local cronies will benefit from this. shame on the mayor for spending our tax$$$$ so sailboats and one company can have the use of an “open bridge”.
disgusting how long can we put up with this????

EnoPride March 3, 2019 at 1:52 pm

With all due respect Mr. Mayor, you and a very, very small group are passing an elephant through a keyhole by making a larger ($$$) keyhole here with this bridge. The majority of Sono and East Norwalk taxpaying residents do not, and in my opinion, should not, approve, of the financially irresponsible finished product you have forced upon them, as is evidenced in the ongoing pushback. I am proud of the pushback. That bridge is just wrong for that space for so many valid reasons voiced. Why do you ignore the pushback? Stakeholders don’t feel that the bridge needs to stay the same, as you seem to have (patronizingly) wordsmithed in your piece (?). What stakeholders do feel very strongly, which you do not address, is that the process by which you are jamming this overwrought, too expensive, inappropriate for its setting, aesthetically unattractive for its setting (someone mentioned “Game of Thrones”?) bridge down their throats with none of their provided input incorporated, only to have them foot the ridiculous bill, is a bit like a slap in their engaged stakeholder faces. Compromising on a more cost efficient bridge design with your stakeholders would have been the right approach here and would have saved us all a lot of money to allocate elsewhere. Instead, stakeholders are being told by you how it is going to be. Talk to the hand…

Mike Mushak March 3, 2019 at 1:56 pm

This comment I wrote below is repeated from an earlier NoN article from a week ago, which is relevant here as well. It’s important to counter misinformation with facts which is what Mayor Rilling is doing with his letter above.

Here’s the re-posted comment:

“Eliminating the federal channel would be one of the biggest planning mistakes ever made in the city’s history. But don’t take my word for it, just read this NoN article about the Harbor Commission’s opinion:

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2016/11/harbor-management-commissioners-fixed-walk-bridge-not-a-good-idea/

Closing the federal channel would violate a majority of the listed goals of our state-approved and federally-mandated Harbor Management Plan, including maintain current channels and navigation, protect public health, safety, and welfare, protect and enhance water-dependent uses including recreational boating, pursue economic growth and community development, preserve maritime heritage and the character of waterfront neighborhoods including scenic quality, and maintain environmental quality.
Once that upper river silts up into an invasive reed-filled mudflat like what happened to the Saugatuck in Westport north of Route 1, we’d have an environmental and economic catastrophe on our hands besides the loss of historic and valuable water views for all the waterfront properties.

Imagine floodwaters from increasingly intense storms spreading out now across residential and industrial properties including all the condo buildings and King Industries and Devine Brothers, or scouring out and breaching the levee on our $400 million wastewater treatment plant causing raw sewage to flow unimpeded for weeks or months into the harbor, or eroding the base of the capped landfill at Oystershell Park causing partial collapse of contaminated sediment into the river. Not a pretty sight.

Turning the upper river into a reed-filled mud flat would also impact fish spawning and migration up the river, and raise water temperatures and reduce oxygen levels creating more summertime fish kills and affecting wading birds and other wildlife. Imagine the low tide stench of rotting muck wafting into SoNo, East Norwalk, and Wall Street every day at low tide. We have some of that now of course but image it times ten.

And would all those rowers want to lose their use of the upper river as it became a shallow mudflat for most of the day where they could get grounded even at high tide? Isn’t some of the best rowing now in the upper river where wave action is limited?

Of course we could continue to dredge, but totally on Norwalk taxpayers dime as no one would be there to help us pay for our mistake in removing a federal channel, and also with the added complication of using low-profile dredges and barges to fit under a fixed bridge that adds a huge cost to dredging.

Can we afford that on top of all of our other commitments? Why would Norwalk taxpayers agree to another huge liability to pay for dredging especially if we had the choice now of not accepting that? It makes no sense, which is why Mayor Rilling and so many others are not accepting that option.

And don’t forget the property values of all the properties on the federal channel who have access to that channel, whether they use it or not at the current time. That access is worth potentially hundreds of millions if all future value is added up and suddenly removed, which will be argued in courtrooms for decades but guaranteed will cost taxpayers much more than building the movable bridge. And if is a local decision to remove the channel, guess who will pay out those liabilities? Thats right, Norwalk taxpayers will get the bill. No thanks!

And what about the cost of adding tens of thousands of heavy truck trips on our streets every year, as each barge going to Devine Brothers represents about 400 truck trips? And if Devine were bought out and paid to move, where would they go? East Norwalk? SoNo? Imagine the outcry. And if they were bought out at a price high enough to make them disappear, where would all the concrete come from for all the local building and road projects? Imagine the environmental costs and extra traffic of all those extra truck trips, from Bridgeport lets say. Not to mention the cost to local contractors that would have to be passed on to consumers or taxpayers.

And for those who say we don’t want industry in our upper river anymore, I just point them to Granville Island in Vancouver, where I visited once. A concrete plant sits there, covered in artistic painting including the trucks painted to match in a giant internationally-known revolving art show, yet coexisting side by side with residential and commercial uses. Its become part of the vibrancy that makes it unique and exciting place to live and work and go to school (theres a college across the street.) Same with the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, attracting artists and new businesses who don’t want a sanitized packaged waterfront.

So we can keep our historic water-dependent industries and bank on them as part of our unique heritage that makes Norwalk special. Removing the federal channel eliminates that mixed-use future, that we may not even know at this point what potential there is someday.

So, why would the city ever agree to a fixed bridge that costs about 90% of a movable bridge according to reports, yet causes the city to lose a federal channel for a mile and a half into its growing downtown, where someday water taxis and recreational boating and other water-dependent uses may expand? And whey would we ever agree to reduce our grand list significantly by reduced waterfront values, as water views become mud flats and water dependent uses including recreational boating disappear?

As I said, and based on all the evidence I have seen, I agree with many others who already know that removing the federal channel north of the Walk Bridge would be one of the biggest and most expensive planning mistakes the city could ever make. In fact, it would be just plain stupid, but that doesn’t seem to stop a lot of folks from supporting it, including some with purely political motivations. They’d make a better case if they agreed to live on the new stinky mudflat and show us a real plan to pay for all the hundreds of millions of lost property values along the river and costs for future dredging for generations to come, without impacting Norwalk taxpayers.

Joe March 3, 2019 at 2:09 pm

Sandy wasn’t a hurricane Mr. Mayor. Not even close.

Walk bridge and 54 tolls, the most in the country. Vote democrat!

Ron Morris March 3, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Piberman
Do you ever have anything good to say about Norwalk? When all a person does is complain and stays put they tend to loose credibility.

Al Bore March 3, 2019 at 8:09 pm

The landscape and skyline of Norwalk has forever changed for the worst under this mayor. Apartment buildings are everywhere we will have a giant mall and the result is the forever disappearing Norwalk skyline. Norwalk is looking like a big city with no thought to the future and our city government has no consideration for the tax paying residents who own property in Norwalk and want the overbuilding to stop. We our loosing the historical feel of Norwalk and we have become overcrowded. We are overbuilding on an already compromised infrastructure which will cost us dearly in the near future. Norwalk has only one thing left it’s beautiful coastline and now our mayor wants to ruin that too with this monster bridge. When you look between apartment buildings towering our skyline you will see this new giant ugly bridge and ask why after it is too late. Enough already stop over building without thinking to the future. We added close to 1000 apartments in Norwalk and lost many hundreds of jobs with companies moving out and closing. What is going to happen when you can’t rent all these apartment buildings, anyone want to guess?

Jason Milligan March 3, 2019 at 8:10 pm

Harry & Mike,

You paint a very scary future. What exactly prevents Norwalk from continuing to dredge the river whether we have a boondoggle bridge, a new fixed bridge or keep the current one?

Dredging the river is separate and distinct operation and decision. You and others conflate the 2 matters and then scaremonger on the consequences of not dredging.

NOBODY is recommending to cease dredging and turning the upper river into a “mud flat”. Suggesting that “mud flats” would be a forgone conclusion if a billion dollars is not spent is ridiculous.

Would the boondoggle bridge come with automated dredging robots?

If the boondoggle bridge is installed and then we stop dredging won’t we have the same mud flat issue?

You see the bridge has nothing to do with whether the river turns to mud flats. It has everything to do with dredging.

Btw, with the current bridge or a fixed bridge it would be very easy for Devine to use shorter boats and to move the 2 tall sailboats to docks on the other side of the bridge.

The city could even offer to buy Devine a new boat, and provide 2 new spaces for the sail boats to park with all the money we would save.

The taxpayers are not dumb.

Let’s all agree to continue dredging regardless of bridge design or navigation designation.

Next let’s have an honest discussion about bridge design. Dealing with the economics of Devine Bros. and 2 sailboats would be very easy and would require a lot less zeros.

EnoPride March 3, 2019 at 9:18 pm

Oooh!! I have serious bridge envy right now! Check out these great looking concepts for a CA bridge:

http://www.sactownmag.com/December-January-2019/A-Bridge-with-Curve-Appeal/

Three designs submitted by a bridge designer who was narrowed down from a pool of designers, and all three designs surpass our 511 million (511 million!!!) boondoggle in both the iconic appeal and affordability department. The writer discusses how the three concepts will be voted upon by not just officials, but by (Get ready, Norwalkers!) STAKEHOLDERS also! This exact type of approach is the one Norwalk should have taken to get the most cost efficient and dynamic possible outcome for this Walk Bridge project. In fact, one design resembles the iconic Bourdeaux lift bridge in France in its aesthetics. Many of us tried to point out the Bourdeaux bridge several months ago as a noteworthy design befitting of the locale’s architecture, but nobody listened. I suggested back then having the public vote on three very strong narrowed down designs, but, Mayor Rilling, none of you seemed interested in this idea. Why is that exactly?

This article mentions that the final decided upon bridge will cost 172 million… Hhmmmm… How can that be? Seems like a comparably sized bridge (or larger?) to ours in scale? Can somebody explain and break down the costs as to why our overwrought, not at all iconic, eyesore will cost 511 million? And why is Mayor Rilling making us feel badly by writing that the Hurricane Sandy Fund needs to be used quickly to help pay for a 511 million bridge we don’t need or else we lose that money and we taxpayers pick up the tab of the 511 million bridge we don’t need? Blatant waste of taxpayer money! If we got the design and pricepoint right around 172 mil on this bridge like CA did, then the Hurricane Sandy money the Mayor is referring to would have more or less covered the bridge! So, you are throwing away a serious chunk of taxpayer money, Mayor Rilling? Please kindly itemize the breakdown of 511 million for the sake of transparency.

Norwalkers, you are being hornswoggled by the Mayor and his boondoggle! Norwalk needs new management!

EnoPride March 3, 2019 at 10:01 pm

“Dredging the river is a separate and distinct operation and decision. You and others conflate the 2 matters and then scaremonger on the consequences of not dredging.”

You express exactly what I was thinking when reading Mayor Rilling’s piece, @Jason Milligan. And @Al Bore, you are right on with your comments about the landscape and skyline being forever changed for the worse under this Mayor. It is sad, really. If the waterfront is such a defining characteristic of Norwalk as the Mayor says, then why is he allowing all these massive apartment structures to consume prime locations which obscure the landscape and the skyline and eat up opportunities for better suited buildings, businesses, parks, promenades, etc? Everywhere you look now, a humongous, ugly building is eclipsing the water views, and there seems to be no end in sight to this “sell out” pattern of doing business. It really is a shame. Norwalk could have been a very different city under different management. All the bones are there. Mayor Rilling and his crew simply lack the creative big picture vision necessary to properly develop and showcase Norwalk to its fullest potential. Their lack of creative vision is also very expensive for taxpayers to sustain, which causes deep resentment. Not good.

This Walk Bridge design should be scrapped. The amount of unaccounted taxpayer money slipping threw the cracks on this project is just unethical. Let’s start over and get it right. Stop wasting my money, City Hall!

Lisa Brinton March 3, 2019 at 11:10 pm

I have to hand it to the mayor. It’s a bold move doubling down on the price tag of the Walk Bridge. Especially since over several decades, studies have shown nine out of ten times, public infrastructure projects go OVER budget and take LONGER than expected to complete – usually by about 30%.

Why? Biased optimism. It’s a well documented term, referring to overly optimistic or under/over estimations, that correlate with strong political or idealogical desires to make ‘something’ happen – regardless – and our mayor, rather than defend his city, obliges.

We already have a couple of Norwalk examples of biased optimism: Poko, sitting abandoned in the center of town; which many described as an impossible project, due to convoluted public funding and excessive affordable housing. Then, there is the Washington Village replacement, also behind schedule, at a cost of ~$600k per unit – well north of the median price tag of a Norwalk family home.

But back to the Walk Bridge. Of concern is the latest DOT request to put a temporary hold on the new IMAX theater, after estimates exceeded costs. See NON story:
https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2019/02/norwalk-council-notes-whats-on-tap/

So, I ask… What else could possibly go wrong on the Walk Bridge? When it’s not their money – an awful lot!

Piberman March 4, 2019 at 9:57 am

Lets encourage individual Common Council members to publicly identify their support for Mayor Rillings Boondoggle Bridge. So voters can judge their service at election time. And lets encourage supporters of Mayor Rillings Boondoggle Bridge to pass around “petitions” and “hold demonstrations of support” in front of City Hall.

Lets encourage supporters of Mayor Rilling’s Boondoggle Bridge to take their case to the public. And let all of CT know how Norwalk Democrats advocate spending scarce CT Budget dollars. Not for public education or much needed social services. But for a Boondoggle Bridge in a failing City where long time homeowners are selling out through mismanagement and even City employees avoid living here.

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