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.