NORWALK, Conn. – Director of Transportation, Mobility, and Parking James Travers has elaborated on the recently unveiled concepts for the Wall Street area.
“This is really, I think, an opportunity to transform a neighborhood, to do something that we know are best practices today and really make it someplace unique and special,” Travers said to Common Council members last week.
The Council is expected to approve a $350,000 contract with Fuss & O’Neill, a civil and environmental engineering firm, Tuesday. This would kick off a 12–18-month process of designing changes to the Wall Street/West Avenue area, including redesigning the intersection of Wall, West and Belden Avenues. Construction would take about the same length of time and the entire project would cost about $13 million, said Travers, who expressed confidence about getting grants to pay for most of it.
“I’ve had a fair amount of success with grants in my past,” Travers said. “I think that this story of, you know, of a downtown to the town of Norwalk, and reclaiming this – I think is it bodes well with many.”
Travers stressed that concepts would evolve in alignment with community input but spoke of making Burnell Boulevard a two-way street and rearranging Pulse Point, the bus terminal. He’s not a fan of back-in parking, personally, and doesn’t think the State would approve a roundabout at the awkward Wall/West/Belden convergence, which has its roots in trolley paths.
Funding for the design work stems from the 2012 Transportation Master Plan, which recommended considering “T-ing” Wall/West/Belden, Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Vonashek said.
In 2018, the Department of Public Works, under then-Director Bruce Chimento, sought a commitment to spend $1.2 million in 2019-20 for a roundabout at Wall Street/West Avenue/Belden Avenue. That wasn’t funded.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) “is not really keen on two lane roundabouts,” Travers said. “I don’t think that that would fall under their approval.”
A roundabout also wouldn’t be pedestrian friendly and if the intersection is “normalized,” then a “huge gateway with green space that the community can actually use” will be created, as opposed to the green space in the center of a roundabout, Travers said.
The 2019 Wall Street/West Avenue Neighborhood Plan emphasizes the importance of making the area pedestrian friendly and also calls for making Burnell Boulevard a two-way street. Regarding Pulse Point, it states, “This area should be upgraded to serve not only as a citywide bus transfer point, but also as a neighborhood serving amenity as well as an origin/destination for a direct transit link between the Wall Street-West Avenue neighborhood and the South Norwalk train station.”
Changing Burnell Boulevard will greatly improve circulation in the area and allow easy access to the Yankee Doodle Garage, Travers said Thursday, adding that facade improvements would make the garage more inviting to draw folks in.
Council member Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) pointed out that there’s been talk of moving Pulse Point to the South Norwalk train station area.
Conversations with the Transit District have shown that “this pulse point really serves the community well here,” Travers said. However, “I firmly believe that that we should have a pulse point at the Transportation Center…. I think that when we have a variety of pulse points for the city, it serves the end user well.”
A “normalized” Burnell Boulevard Pulse Point would have buses parking parallel to the curb and “make it look less like a bus depot in the middle of a neighborhood and really looking like it’s, you know, it’s there to support ridership,” Travers said. While there are seven canopies on one side of the street now, three would be moved to the south side and riders would automatically know which direction buses would be going in.
Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) asked about the long-talked about Head of the Harbor North proposed mixed-use development and M.F. DiScala’s stated desire to build over the City parking lot between Main and High Streets.
“I think those conversations have been resurrected, not in, I wouldn’t say, in very a serious manner. But we’ve definitely heard inklings of developer looking at that site, again, for the Head of the Harbor,” Vonashek said.
With the economic incentives that have been approved recently and the proposed investments, “there’s definitely interest in being able to move that parcel,” she said.
Council member George Tsiranides (D-District D) pressed Travers for an opinion about back-in parking, which the City installed in 2019 in the Wall Street area.
“I don’t like the back-in parking,” Travers said. Instead, he’d prefer “widened sidewalks” to create activity on the street.
“We really need to create this, really, pedestrian gateway that’s through here, that’s much more focused on the environment there than the cars for quick hits,” Travers said. “…I think our investment into the Wall Street area will be pretty substantial.”
Kydes said it would be “fantastic” if TMP were able to get grant funding to revamp the area’s streets and sidewalks.
“I have never seen that type of funding come in for pretty much anything here in Norwalk,” Kydes said. “That would be that’d be a great achievement, James, if you can pull off.”
Travers said that he and Assistant Director for Transportation Services Garrett Bolella have written a Local Capital Improvement Program (LoCIP) grant application for $3.8 million and then a FEMA application for $13 million. The LoCIP money would fund phase one; the application has been “received favorably” by the Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WestCOG).
“They’re asking for some additional information before it moves forward to ConDOT but I think I feel pretty confident that at least that one is a strong possibility,” Travers said. But if FEMA comes through, “We would forgo this one and probably look at a different project, but get FEMA to cover the whole entire cost and get all the improvements done at one time.”