NORWALK, Conn. – A project to widen Rowayton Avenue at the railroad bridge is up for a vote Tuesday evening after a conversation between city officials and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) apparently failed to produce any alterations to the plan.
The price tag for refusing modifications planned by the state for the Rowayton Avenue railroad bridge underpass would be about $500,000, Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Mike Barbis said Monday. That would be in addition to the $250,000 spent by Norwalk as its part of engineering the project.
Barbis, an opponent of the plan, was at the Thursday meeting. “Mayor (Harry) Rilling said, ‘I don’t think this is a great project but I don’t have $750,000 to cough up,’” Barbis said. “… The mayor really did try but the state was demanding this money.”
Rilling and state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) arranged the meeting with CDOT in reaction to concerns raised by Rowayton residents. The road will be lowered more than a foot under the new railroad bridge, bringing the clearance to 12 feet, 4 inches, although the state’s standard clearance height is 14½ feet, according to Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord.
Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Tammy Langalis is among those speaking out against the plan. Rowayton residents are opposed to it as the scope of the project is not appropriate to a residential road, she said at the last council meeting, where the vote was tabled to allow Rilling time to meet with CDOT.
“That road is not meant for trucks to be going through it,” Zoning Commissioner Nora King said at that same meeting.
“Trailer trucks are not going to be going through there,” Alvord said last week. “They’re 13 feet high.”
The city agreed to the terms two years ago, Alvord said. The state needed to replace the railroad bridge and widened the scope of the project in response to concerns expressed by residents, investing additional money with the understanding that Norwalk would hold up its end of the deal.
“This has gone through 10 years of reviews, various public meetings, various meetings with individual property owners, over and over – multiple resolutions by the council. It’s gone through the process. The bid process is out there, we’ve got bids from contractors. This has got to get done,” Alvord said.
That was the attitude expressed by a matter-of-fact state engineer in the conference held last week at City Hall, Barbis said, who quoted the engineer as saying “We are going to expect a check from Norwalk for $500,000” if the project does not go through.
The new bridge already has gouge marks on its underside, which Alvord said have been caused by trucks scraping under it. The engineer said, “This is our bridge, it’s being damaged, and we need to protect it,” according to Barbis.
Barbis said he told the engineer that people will be speeding through there as a result of the changes. The engineer said that was an enforcement issue, a thought that has been expressed by Common Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E), chairman of the Public Works Committee.
The council will vote on whether to accept a bid for the project at Tuesday’s meeting. It appears to be a fait accompli, Barbis said.
“As the mayor said, this vote is just to sign the contracts. This was approved two years ago. It was a different political environment,” Barbis said.
Barbis said that, according to information presented in last week’s meeting, construction would begin in March or April and be done in December.
Part of the problem with public perception is that the rebuilding of the railroad bridge took five years, Barbis said. “The original project was a disaster,” he said. “No one was ever held accountable.”
The $2.5 million project is 100 percent reimbursable, with 80 percent of that coming from the federal government and 20 percent from the state, Alvord said.
Alvord said sight-line issues need to be fixed under the bridge and complained about “misinformation” regarding the project.
“The road has already been widened under the bridge,” he said. “The rest of it is staying the same or is actually being narrowed.”