Opinion: More thought needed on Walk Bridge

Gail Lavielle
Fred Wilms

Last week, the Department of Transportation (DOT) provided an update on the Walk Bridge project at City Hall. Present were the Mayor and his staff, State Sen. Bob Duff, State Rep. Bruce Morris and ourselves.

Below are our observations and recommendations:

  1. The DOT is committed to building the lift bridge alternative. In particular, the DOT prefers the 240-foot Vertical Lift Span encompassing two lift towers.
  2. There is a huge gap between Norwalk community opinion and the DOT Lift Span alternative. One constantly hears the refrain around town that the DOT should simply weld the current bridge shut. While the DOT has engaged in community outreach, clearly more listening is needed.
  3. We recommend that Norwalk engage an independent peer review of the DOT plans. While the DOT has many top-notch engineers, they are not local. Given the disconnect with Norwalk community opinion, the City should engage an independent engineering peer review, and make these findings available to the public.
  4. At a $1 billion total price tag, can the State afford this project? Our State’s fiscal crisis keeps getting worse. Given our fiscal reality, perhaps the DOT should revisit all of its Walk Bridge assumptions from a cost value perspective.
  5. The Maritime Aquarium IMAX theatre will be demolished and used as a construction area. In exchange the Aquarium is expected to get a new theatre built on the other side.
  6. We believe that Norwalk should receive at least three compensation projects for incurring the entire construction burden on behalf of the Northeast Corridor. New Haven received compensation for the Q Bridge project – so should Norwalk. Two good places to start would be the Wall Street train station and new bike/walk trails.
  7. Our biggest overall concern is Norwalk’s becoming one big construction zone. In addition to the Walk Bridge, there will be the GGP Mall, Washington Village, Wall Street, additional Waypointe projects, the Yankee Doodle Bridge, and the East Avenue Bridge. If mismanaged, Norwalk could end up looking like the current Wall Street. We must not allow this to happen. Therefore, the Walk Bridge alternative needs both the shortest construction schedule, and the lowest construction risk. The DOT should get out of Norwalk as quickly as possible and inflict the least amount of damage.
  8. The federal waterway is a poor reason to choose a bridge alternative. It appears the DOT wants Norwalk to have a federally navigable harbor north of the Walk Bridge more than Norwalk does. An honest assessment of the northern waterway acknowledges the entire area is gentrifying and that the old industrial uses are fading out. Maintaining the northern area for barges and large boats is more about the past and less about the future.
  9. We must keep the greater good in mind when we advocate. While we advocate for our community interests, we must be mindful that the New Haven line carries more than 40 million riders per year. A Walk Bridge failure would imperil the entire Northeast Corridor. We must accept this broader reality and focus our advocacy on solutions that work for all.

Fred Wilms represents the 142nd district for Norwalk and New Canaan in the Connecticut State Legislature.

Gail Lavielle represents the 143rd district for Norwalk, Westport, and Wilton in the Connecticut State Legislature.


12 responses to “Opinion: More thought needed on Walk Bridge”

  1. Lisa Brinton Thomson

    Fred Wilms and Gail Lavielle – Thank YOU, Thank YOU, Thank YOU.

  2. Mike McGuire

    Reps. Wilms and Lavielle – thank you for your vision and outspoken support on behalf of Norwalk. It would be great to hear this level of clarity and commitment from the Common Council and Mayor’s office.

    One question – if the NE Train corridor is so vital to national interests why is it that CT alone has to bear this burden, why not tap into Trumps $1.0 trillion infrastructure proposals?

  3. David

    Great ideas – why are thy only coming forth now? how long have we been talking about the walk bridge?

    I love the idea of two extra projects, particularly the bike paths – I mean real bike paths, not just lines on a road. How do we get that? Have you two brought any legislation forth in this regard?

    Look I’ll be honest with you, I feel we’re beyond reason with this project. You’re right, just weld the thing shut and leave it at that. But I have a hard time believing this thing gets through a legislative (or any) process to a billion dollar price tag if it were that simple. Heck, We all know Hartford area politicians have a hard time paying for anything that isn’t up in Hartford.

    It seems from what I’ve read, that really isn’t an option. And while we have to go through something that preserves the dual nature of the bridge, can we up the price tag? Because a significant portion of that cost is going to stay in the local economy.

  4. Tony P

    I’m sure Devine Bros, a company that pays taxes to the City of Norwalk, would disagree with both of you, Representatives. Their business doesn’t seem to be fading at all. Interesting, coming from free market mavens as yourselves. Amazing how you both, like so many others, seem to be so open to moving someone else’s business. Plus, this has already been discussed at length – the state would have to compensate every property owner on the river who purchased with the knowledge that the river was navigable.

  5. Rick

    Now this bridge they want in Norwalk, is it the same as the ones they have built all along the coast of Ct over the years?

    Building this type saves money and time, doesn’t it? a bridge like this gets put together in a few pieces after the prep its a fast build correct ?

    I understand its the look but its over a river with three large cells of contaminated earth buried in the river itself too dirty to be placed in Long Island site for disposal.

    Why are we so concerned about what going over the river and not what’s in it? Or what leaks out of Oyster shell park?

    This bridge is changing the environment larger vessels will travel the river churning up more contamination it will be awesome.

  6. Isabelle Hargrove

    Thank you both for having the courage to write this letter. There are growing concerns amongst Norwalkers who are awaking to the frightening reality of what DOT is proposing and realizing that Norwalk is squandering the opportunity to create a thriving waterfront area. Our current leadership in both the mayor office and the common council is unfortunately weak. Norwalkers should start to mobilize and find the right people with the vision and leadership needed to get the job done. We have done it before, it is that time again!

  7. Donna

    Many thanks to Fred Wilms and Gail Lavielle for laying out the many agendas at play in the Walk bridge project. I agree with Mike McGuire that if the Northeast corridor is so important to Amtrak, there should be federal funding to help pay for it. From what I hear, additional land will be claimed through eminent domains for a railroad yard. Is this true? And it is time to rethink preserving the Federal waterway, given the expense and disruption that will accrue to the state and to Norwalk in particular.

  8. Jlightfield

    Norwalk needs to plan for the future. Part of that will be to address how Norwalk plans for industrial uses as they relate to manufacturing, service delivery and energy. Let’s stop letting the Redevelopment Agency drive planning decisions and take a fresh look at how the upper harbor and the Norwalk harbor overall should look like in 2050.

    Driverless car technology is going to change things dramatically. NY is rebuilding the train tunnels to NJ and adding stations in Brooklyn and Long Island. The Hudson corridor is booming.

    The Federal DOT is planning its northeast corridor to bypass South Norwalk and cross the Norwalk River at the Yankee Doodle Bridge.

    The conversation about transportation solutions in Norwalk should not be an isolated view of internal needs, but how Norwalk fits into the regional economy.

  9. Michael McGuire

    I’m very much in favor of DOT maintaining a Federal Waterway north of the Walk Street bridge. The United States is a maritime nation with a long and storied history of maritime prowess and progress.

    Most notably in the Northeast we are removing vital commercial activities along our waterways in favor of more “profitable” residential housing.

    This is an unhealthy influence on maritime based industries (past, present and future), long the backbone of our local economies.

    To summarize two recent great reads on geopolitics “The Absent Superpower” and the “Absentee Superpower” by Peter Zeihan (check out his youtube stuff – fascinating). The industrialization and commercial use of our waterways are what made the United States a Superpower in the first place.

    If every coastal community removes valuable commercial waterfront property per year, even by a few percentage points, the net effect can be devastating.

    A navigable commercial waterway that reaches along the entire length of our urban core should be maintained as such. Mystic Seaport is a great example.

  10. Jlightfield

    @michaelmcguire then you don’t understand what it really means to be a federal navigable channel. Because the upper harbor hasn’t been one in the truest sense of the definition for over 100 years.

    Maintaining commercial use of the upper harbor is a totally unrelated issue.

  11. Rick

    new Amtrack news today people like Mike Understand Amtrack is a player Norwalk is not Hartford has very little to work on regarding facts .

    City is chasing its tail while others watch.

    Nothing has changed Norwalk works without a net and the only ones to blame are the voters.

    Wake up before the next election most of you slept thru the last one.

  12. Debora Goldstein

    Once again, this is a forest for the trees argument because DOT has selected the bridge option that is:
    -not the cheapest to build
    -not the cheapest to maintain
    -not the fastest to build
    -not retaining historical staus
    -not requiring the smallest land taking impact

    We are arguing about navigability and picking winners and losers and possibly endangering the sound, the oyster beds and the humans by reconfiguring the waterway.

    Segregating the unrelated bridge projects (some of which have been unfunded for decades) and restoration of the existing structure will give everyone access to exactly what they have now in terms of commercial uses. It would preserve navigability for future uses. It would disrupt rail service a bit more during the project but would likely cost 10-20% what this project is slated to cost.

    Considering the federal northeast corridor high-speed rail project is likely to make the demand for this “100 year bridge” wither away in 30 years, its time somebody reined in DOTzilla’s insistence on “repealing and replacing” the bridge before it kills Norwalk altogether.

    Remember how GGP found that they couldn’t make the economics work on a hotel because the market is too low here? How low does it go with major construction strangling the area for years to come?

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