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Opinion: Norwalk is ahead of the curve on infrastructure improvements

Norwalk Chief of Operations and Public Works Anthony Robert Carr. (Contributed)

I was hired as the city’s Chief of Operations and Public Works on March 18, and have learned quite a bit over my first 200 or so days. What first struck me was how involved residents, businesses, and local neighborhood associations are in the work we do. They are invested – and rightfully so – in seeing their tax dollars spent wisely. As someone new to the city, but with a career in municipal government, I can tell you Norwalk is doing things right.

Norwalk is investing $6 million in infrastructure projects related to roads, sidewalks, and curbs this year. Our pavement management program dwarfs those of similar municipalities. Before coming to Norwalk, I was the Deputy Commissioner of Public Works in White Plains, NY. That municipality spent just $2 million on its paving program. Stamford, a city many believe to be the model for growth and investment, spends $3-$4 million.

Norwalk plans strategically. We have a running list of streets that are analyzed, accessed, and put into a five-year forecast. The schedule serves as a guide, as factors can shift the plan. For example, we work closely with utility companies. Why pave a road if the gas company is going to rip it up next year? That means a street slated for paving would be pushed back to coincide with underground utility work.

Also, when we pave, we install or repair sidewalks and correct potential drainage issues. While sidewalk maintenance is the responsibility of the property owner, we do our very best to ensure they are safe. For instance, Woodward Avenue wasn’t on the paving schedule for another few years, but it was essential to ensure sidewalks are safe today. We put an asphalt overlay on sidewalks, and when we pave the street, they will be redone in concrete.

We are also investing money into improving our sanitary sewer lines, and have embarked on a flooding study and remediation plan. No other community is proactively investing in infrastructure as much as Norwalk. While other municipalities might spend more dollars, it’s because they didn’t plan and now are being forced to catch up. Public Works Departments around New England should look to Norwalk as a model for how to strategically plan and proactively invest in infrastructure.

15 comments

Mike Mushak October 16, 2019 at 5:56 am

Thank you Mr. Carr for dedicating yourself to our great city, and helping make it better.

We notice the dramatic improvements all over town, and appreciate your efforts and the rest of the DPW staff who work hard every day.

Whenever we have attended meetings in the DPW offices on various issues over the years, we are always struck by how busy the staff is, running back and forth down the hallways and dealing with constant changes and emergencies that always arise in a big city. There is no doubt in our minds that taxpayers get their money’s worth from our overworked DPW staff!

It’s easy to forget our beautiful historic city is 368 years old, founded in 1651, and has had decades of deferred maintenance especially in the recent troubled times beginning in the 1960’s when most of our bustling factories (136 total at one time) started closing down, throwing tens of thousands out of work and starting a cycle of poverty and blight especially in our more urban areas.

Norwalk is enjoying a remarkable post-industrial renaissance since the factories closed and our downtowns were hollowed out by suburban flight and lack of investment, and every year it just gets better.

Over the last 20 years we have lived and invested our life’s savings here and started a small business, and we have seen big improvements in our historic neighborhood of Golden Hill in South Norwalk, as well as across the city in our parks, schools, streets, sidewalks, water and air quality, and overall quality of life.

There is still a lot to do of course, and it is great to see the city invested in improvements and protecting the public health, safety, and welfare which is always the main objective of government.

Finally, we want to thank Mayor Rilling for deciding to hire you, Mr. Carr. We can certainly all sleep better at night knowing the entire city is in good hands!

cc-rider October 16, 2019 at 6:12 am

I’d love to know what is going to be done on Water Street as last weekend the construction workers were laughing/observing cars attempting to drive/navigate two feet of standing water for about a 100 yard stretch of the street.

Milly October 16, 2019 at 6:40 am

Could you please put more yard waste pick ups in the schedule. Two times in the spring and two times in the fall is not enough. It isn’t fair to expect people to have to cart and dump their yard refuse at the site. Are you aware that many seniors are having to do this dump run (while the city workers sit and watch).
I do not understand why if the city has the trucks and the workers yard waste is not being picked up more.

Alice October 16, 2019 at 7:53 am

If many of these problems had been taken care of when they first came to light the city could have gotten the jobs done cheaper. How strange when it’s election time these problems are addressed!

SH October 16, 2019 at 12:18 pm

Thank you Anthony Carr for your observations.

It would have been better to hold this for a few weeks to avoid the appearance of a department head campaigning for the incumbent.

Robert Kruse October 16, 2019 at 2:30 pm

To echo the yard waste pickups,two times in the fall is ridiculous. How does White Plains handle their leaves, by having seniors cart them to the dump? $1.2 million for hundreds of new students and now $450,000 because some students want to stay up late, a lot on social media, but only two fall pickups. Great for the homeowners.

Paul Lanning October 16, 2019 at 3:26 pm

Norwalk yard waste pickups used to be bi-weekly.

The current limited schedule necessitates hundreds of individual car trips to Smith St. each week, wasting residents’ time and gas. Moreover, most working people can’t use the site at all thanks to the short hours of operation.

Bryan Meek October 16, 2019 at 3:51 pm

Transparency is needed on operations. It’s clear the last few years were a holiday with routine maintenance going by the wayside for the crisis management tact the city has been on. The citizens should have a schedule published of when drains are expected to be cleared and when they are actually cleared. Much of the flooding in the city has a lot to do with the relaxation of work rules at DPW since Hal Alvord was fired. That and taking the city off of routine maintenance runs and instead responding to every little scratch that needed itching. 10 to 20% of costs are on mobilization. Emergencies are going to happen, but we need to get out of the practice of crews driving around the city all day. Park them in one neighborhood, then move to the next.

John Miller October 16, 2019 at 4:59 pm

Thanks for the update, Mr. Carr. The results of your efforts are clearly visible throughout our city.

Brian Morrissey October 16, 2019 at 11:04 pm

I know flooding is a big problem for Norwalk but with Chris Torre taking over flooding was down over 40 % and declining.. As being a part of the Vactor Unit we cleared and Rodded every catch basin we approached.. Mr. Torre understood the process..From starting as a laborer and working his way up to Superintendent Chris made sure the Vactor team did it the right way,and I’m proud to say I was a part of that team .. To have home owners come and thank us for correcting the flooding was so satisfying .So if u think that Hal was behind it you have your story wrong .. Don’t get me wrong Hal did some good things but with the Vactors it was Chris and Ralph n The Formen that made sure it was done properly…Suck and Rod was our Moto….

Jo October 17, 2019 at 7:13 am

Milly, be glad you don’t live in Silvermine. We have NO yard waste pickup.

And the timing on this article is perfect. Last Saturday, I had an event that put me on Main Avenue at 4:30 in the morning. I was the only car on the road, and for the first time I realized what a complete mess that road is, particularly as you’re heading toward the Merritt and Stop & Shop. An absolute patchwork of patchup jobs and potholes. Can we put that on the to-do list, please, Alan?

Mike Mushak October 17, 2019 at 7:59 am

@Brian Morrissey, thanks you for correcting the record after Bryan Meek’s false claim, and for your service to the city. And Chris Torre is awesome!

Laughed at your motto. Took real courage to say that publicly, lol!

Bryan Meek October 17, 2019 at 9:48 am

Hey Brian, I have no issues with the crews. I worked for DPW three summers through school. I remember how things were done. Hal was tough, but he was a leader agree or disagree with his approach. My issues is with the tone at the top. The ability to manage in crisis mode is a wonderful trait for a Police Chief, but it is no way to run a city this size. Keep up the good work. We depend on it.

Babar October 17, 2019 at 12:09 pm

The areas around all schools should be priority, even more important now with winter coming. The sidewalks should be in great condition for kids to walk on, especially younger kids. I see a lot of work around Sono but barely any in residential areas where families with kids live and senior citizens. And something needs to be done on Spring Hill Avenue, the cars park on the sidewalk all the time, making for very dangerous conditions for anyone with a stroller.

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