NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk officials met Friday to say major improvements are on the way for the Wall Street area, and promise that they will happen, as soon as possible.
Design on changes for the area around West and Belden Avenues is imminent, as the Department of Transportation, Mobility and Parking has selected Fuss & O’Neill, a civil and environmental engineering firm, to lead the efforts that will include “massive community engagement” to guide the concepts geared toward making the area pedestrian friendly and create a walkable downtown, Director of Transportation, Mobility, and Parking James Travers said. And even though a finished design isn’t expected for 12 to 18 months, TMP is already applying for grants to fund the work.
“We’re not going to talk about investments to Wall Street, we’re going to show you investments on Wall Street,” Travers said.
Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story
In addition, Norwalk has already won a $1.5 million State grant to fund improvements on Wall Street, between Brook and Main Streets, said Norwalk Chief of Operations and Public Works Anthony Robert Carr. Construction is expected to start in May, and this is “phase one” of the work to come on the Wall Street corridor, “starting at the bottom of Mill Hill.”
“In 1955, a flood devastated this area, you know, so it’s been over 60 years that we’ve not really reclaimed it and we’re about to reclaim it and create something wonderful as a downtown,” Travers said.
The capital budget approved by the Common Council this spring included $350,000 for the West/Belden/Mott intersection.
“Mayor Rilling had the foresight to put in investment dollars into design for this intersection,” and as soon as the money was approved, TMP put out an RFP for a design firm, said Travers, who became TMP director in February after serving in a similar post in Stamford.
Five firms responded and a committee of four chose Fuss & O’Neill because the preliminary design the firm came up with “spoke to what we wanted,” and planned to do the largest area possible in phase one, Travers said. But, “what really made them win, is just really their commitment to community engagement…. they really talked about feet on the street, knocking on doors, meeting people where they are, hearing what’s going in developing that plan.”
The Council will need to approve Fuss & O’Neill as the design consultant, he said.
As for a “reimagined Wall Street,” Travers said, “We know what we want, it’s pretty clear. It’s one that is pedestrian friendly, bike friendly, really business friendly, and with a huge pedestrian component.”
Statistics show this is “one of the highest amongst the city for people driving a mile or less to their destination. So what we really know is that this could be a really huge walkable community. And that’s what really, really are looking forward to developing here.”
“Where I got my marching orders from the Mayor is that we’re not just going to develop a plan that’s going to sit on the shelf for 10 years, right? We’re going to build this,” he said. “… We believe that total investment is going to be about 13 to $15 million,” and Rilling is committing $1.7 million of American Rescue Plan funding to the project.
TMP is partnering with the Parking Authority to invest in the Yankee Doodle Garage and make it more welcoming, Travers said. “The investments that we’re making here are not only on Wall Street, but on the approaches to West Avenue, right? And then to Burnell (Boulevard), well, we’re looking to convert it back to two-way so that we have access to our garage.”
Some of the roads in the area were built for trolleys and Phase One would be “all the work on Belden” and would “normalize” the aged intersection of Wall, West and Belden Avenues, making accommodations for pedestrians and possibly creating a plaza out of the space that’s poorly used now, he said. Making Burnell a two-way street will ease traffic so construction to occur.
This would create a “gateway into Wall Street” with welcoming features, Travers said.
Phase Two would be investments on Wall Street and on the Burnell Street bridge. Phase Three would involve Isaacs and Commerce Streets.
“We have already written one grant application for $3.8 million to start the project,” Travers said. “…We’ve also written a $13 million grant to FEMA to actually do the whole entire project at once.”
Travel lanes would be narrowed, creating room for “walkable sidewalks” that would be at least 10 feet wide, allowing room for trees and outdoor dining space, he said. But it’s all about adjusting to business needs, making the area welcoming.
Travers said that wherever he’s worked, when a city makes investments into areas it becomes more attractive for commerce. “I think when we build it, they will come, right? Field of Dreams is my favorite movie.”
The City approved updated plans for Wall Street Place, commonly called “POKO,” but real estate broker Jason Milligan has appealed the Zoning Commission approval. The City is also deep into other litigation with Milligan, who owns at least 40 properties in the Wall Street area.
The projects would build streetscape around POKO, now wrapped in Tyvek, and “make it a welcoming environment so that when that when that comes into place, you know, this will be done,” Travers said.
Changing Burnell Boulevard would take the pressure off River Street and it could occasionally be closed for street festivals, Travers said. A pedestrian bridge near Freese Park is possible.
“These ideas, I think are important because what they are is they show a growth that we haven’t had in this area,” Council member David Heuvelman (D-District A) said. “And I’m very excited by it.”
Heuvelman said he and Travers stood in the traffic island at the Wall/West/Belden intersection for about an hour one day, watching people navigate and “the dangerous quality of getting through here with the slip lanes and the way the traffic was. And we talked about what those possibilities could be. And it’s exciting, because the thing about this is we want this to be an inviting area.”
“We want to make Norwalk the most walkable community in Connecticut, right? And we’ll do it one neighborhood at a time,” Travers said.
The Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program (LOTCIP) grant will entirely fund lighting, decorative pavers, traffic and safety improvements, new sidewalks and other infrastructure improvements in approximately 650 linear feet west of Mill Hill, Carr said.
That will make that area inviting, Heuvelman said.
“There’ll be other pedestrian improvements for visibility, enhanced safety. And we’re very excited. Obviously, the area will be repaved,” Carr said. “But that’s almost the first phase of that, east of that Wall Street corridor.”
Carr said, “We applied for the grant, we were fortunate enough to get it from WestCOG. And we were able to put a design together now that narrows the travel lanes, widens the sidewalks; we put in a raised crosswalk and it makes it a lot more pedestrian friendly along with the historic streetlights.”
Updated 12:51 a.m. Oct. 31: Information added.