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Norwalk approves funding for design of ‘important’ NRVT spur

Norwalk River Valley Trail
One of the most recent sections of the NRVT finished in Norwalk. (Photo by Kelly Prinz)

The Norwalk Common Council has unanimously approved a $22,000 contract with Stantec, an engineering and consulting firm, for the preliminary design and grant support services for a new spur of the Norwalk River Valley Trail, which would run under Grist Mill Road, connecting the Wilton portions of the trail to Glover Avenue.

“The NRVT is continuing to progress. We recently completed the section just south of New Canaan Ave., so we’re continuing to look for opportunities to progress future sections of the trail,” Benjamin Yeung, a senior traffic engineer with the city’s Transportation, Mobility, and Parking department, told the Economic and Community Development Committee of the Common Council earlier this month.

Yeung said this design work will “help us get a nice connection,” as this spur of the trail would run from Glover Avenue, up underneath Grist Mill, “which is a busy road as you all know, and provide a safe ped and bike connection to the existing ‘WilWalk section of the trail.’” WilWalk is the name of the section of trail that crosses from Norwalk into Wilton.

The connection would bring users up Glover Avenue, which has sidewalks and bike lanes, to The Curb apartment complex, where the trail would then take them under Grist Mill, allowing them to connect to the existing WilWalk section of the trail that is complete in Wilton.

Andrea Gartner, the executive director of the Norwalk River Valley Trail, called this an “important link of the NRVT.”

“One of the most obvious benefits is that it will make the NRVT sections north accessible to the nearly 9,000 people living within a 1-mile radius of Glover Avenue; over 70,000 people living within a 3-mile radius; and over 142,000 within a 5-mile radius,” she said. “Then there are the thousands of people who work in the office buildings in the vicinity.”

The route under Grist Mill is a “departure from the 2012 trail routing study,” according to Gartner, which brought the trail over Grist Mill Road. Yeung said this route is going to “use the same underpass as the railroad, the Danbury line,” to get under the road.

“It’s far enough away from the train line that it’s not going to pose any issues with bicyclists and pedestrians being too close to the trains—and they’re up on a different level,” he said.

A look at the proposed WilWalk section of the NRVT. (Courtesy of the NRVT)

Gartner also noted that the “tie to the [Merritt 7] train stop would also make the NRVT accessible to lower Fairfield County residents, particularly those commuting to ASML, a semiconductor equipment-maker, which has a large facility with thousands of employees in Wilton.

“There is already a bit of a subculture with ASML employees who commute to Wilton and connect with sections of the NRVT where they can,” she said. “Completion of the Spur will—happily—take them off the Route 7 corridor for some length and it emphasizes the trans-modal aspect of this project as an alternate mode of transportation.”

In addition, she noted that connecting the more densely populated areas of lower Fairfield County to the trail would enable users to get into nature easily.

“The Spur connection to the existing WilWalk section also offers a real woodland environment for NRVT users, in contrast to the more urban character of the NRVT Norwalk,” she said. “Many studies again and again demonstrate the benefit of time in nature for mental and emotional health and well-being and the Spur connection would make this resource accessible to more city dwellers.”

The current WilWalk section of the trail “straddles Norwalk and Wilton from Chipmunk Lane in Wilton to the Belden Hill area in Norwalk,” Gartner noted.

“This section was funded by a CT DEEP Recreational Trail Grant program award and opened in 2022,” she said. “This year, the NRVT, with funding from a 2023 RTG award, extended that section further north into Wilton and nearer to Kent Rd.”

While this will provide a connection from Norwalk to trails north, questions about how the trail will connect from points south still remain. Right now, in Norwalk, the trail runs from Calf Pasture Beach up to Broad Street.

Yeung said that they are looking into options to continue the trail “both west and east of Route 7.”

“In the future, we’ll continue to explore what the best alignment is going to be south of this point,” Yeung said. “For now, this is a relatively quick and simple extension of the trail that would be a great win for the city.”

As a part of the contract, approved Tuesday, Stantec will also help the city apply for grant funding to construct this section of the trail. Yeung estimated that the preliminary designs would be ready for grant applications in the fall.

Jim Travers, the city’s director of Transportation, Mobility, and Parking, said he believed between the federal funding the trail received and Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program, better known as, LOTCIP grant funding available through WestCOG, they’ll be able to fund this portion of the trail.

Gartner said any parts of the trail that get completed are a win.

“Any and all progress of NRVT sections benefits the NRVT’s vision of a 30-mile connected route between Norwalk and Danbury and inches us toward completion,” she said. “In any discussion of the benefits of the NRVT, I cite that one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is that as a culture, I think we have shifted from a perspective that an amenity like the NRVT is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ but a ‘must-have.’”

Comments

One response to “Norwalk approves funding for design of ‘important’ NRVT spur”

  1. Tanner Thompson

    Kudos to the City of Norwalk, especially TMP, for being an active driver of progress on the NRVT. In most other towns, the local government is a lot less involved and the Friends of the NRVT have to fundraise and conduct design studies on their own – but thankfully not in Norwalk.

    I hope that will be enough to bridge the gap between the existing section in central Norwalk (Aquarium to Broad Street) and this smaller section on the Wilton border – with the Merritt / 7 interchange in the way and slated for reconstruction, it will require a lot more coordination than the rest of the trail.

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