Perone tackles hot issues in East Norwalk forum

A rendering for the proposed Walk Bridge. East Norwalk residents call it an albatross, State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) said Monday in the Marvin Senior Center.
State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137). (Harold Cobin)

Updated, 10:28 a.m.: Quote from Chris Perone; 9:12 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Pleas for a fixed Walk Bridge continue to be rebuffed by the Mayor’s Office.

State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) at an East Norwalk Neighborhood Association (ENNA) forum on Monday told East Norwalkers that he’d arrange a meeting with Mayor Harry Rilling, Gov. Ned Lamont, local politicians and Walk Bridge plan critics to discuss the alternative to the lift bridge that is planned. Rilling indicated Thursday that Perone wouldn’t have any luck in persuading leaders that a fixed bridge would be preferable.

The Walk Bridge program, ConnDOT’s plan to replace the aged railroad bridge over the Norwalk River with a 240-foot vertical lift bridge, also involves repairs to other Norwalk railroad bridges.  Critics have assailed the plan for a bridge which opens as costly and unnecessary, and a local group has filed a lawsuit to oppose it.

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story

“I am getting a lot of push back by saying, ‘Really? This particular design? This particular solution? It’s an albatross and what can we do about it?’” Perone said. “So, it’s my feeling is I think it’s overwrought but again I want to hear what people say here because this is representative government. We have money set aside but, again, the transportation funds, the governor and DOT have to make priorities, make decisions.”

“I know there’s federal money coming towards it, but the state is going to have to kick in money, too,” Jim Anderson said. “… Weld it shut, it’s a dead-end river. Even if you have to pay people on the other side of that bridge money, simple logic, explain to me in simple terms, why that couldn’t be done, and save money?”

“There are people upstream saying we really don’t need this and is there a solution, where the people that are upstream can just basically be bought out and say, that we really don’t need this after all,” Perone said. “I think that’s been on the table as a point of discussion, but it hasn’t moved. I think part of it is because they are a still question of the underlying bridge. Does that need to be replaced? I think that’s part of the issue.”

The Norwalk River is designated by the U.S. Coast Guard as a navigable waterway, necessitating a bridge that will allow clearance for commercial traffic and sailboats.

Third Taxing District Commissioner Debora Goldstein said U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) is willing to change that designation but Perone “has been stuck in the middle because nobody from the City of Norwalk has been willing to make the request. So Congress can’t help us.”

Robin Penna of the nonprofit group Harbor Keeper, plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging ConnDOT’s Walk Bridge plan, said Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and Lamont said before the election that they “felt, just like you said, that they really didn’t need a movable bridge. But, they did not want to upset local politics at that point in time.”

“So what if they are upset?” Perone said. “Their job, if you have a Congressman that wants to work with us, I would think part of it is on the city for them to come to an agreement. because, correct me if I am wrong, it’s the only way we had any traction with Merritt 7, when the city woke up and also decided to play along. Is the City going to be a hindrance or work with people? Because in East Norwalk this is not a popular project.”

Penna said the Walk Bridge opens 100 times a year, 20 of them “regular openings.”  Heating oil supplier Devine Brothers can get barges through with a push-pull tug and “there’s dredging that’s available with a low profile bridge throughout the world. So there can be a fixed bridge,” she said.

She asked Perone if a meeting could be arranged with Rilling and Lamont to discuss a fixed bridge.

“It’s not too late to take a look at other alternatives or maybe you could save some money and put it back into your transportation fund,” she said.

Perone said he’d arrange the meeting.

Rilling on Thursday wrote:

“In all due respect Mr. Perone has not been at any of the meetings regarding the Walk Bridge. Moreover, this project has been moved forward and in my latest conversation with the commissioner of the department of transportation as well as the governor, will continue to move forward. In order to make that a fixed bridge, the current bridge would still have to be replaced with a new structure as this current structure is over 120 years old. So according to the engineers, there would be no less disruption to the area, and the cost savings would be minimal.  Also, in order to make a fixed bridge at that location, we would need approval from the United States Coast Guard. If that approval was not forthcoming in a timely fashion and ultimately was denied the cost of the bridge would increase significantly. The $1.3 billion price tag is not simply for the Walk Bridge itself.
“That price tag includes the repairs to all the other bridges in the area. “Bridges that have been operational for many many years and need structural repairs. And finally … it is not wise to make that a non-navigable river there by precluding the many uses both recreational and commercial that might be considered over the next century.”

Perone on Friday clarified his position, writing:

“For commerce, transportation and national security reasons, the Norwalk bridge project is one of the most important transportation projects in the country. And it is for these reasons that I believe it needs to happen. Additionally, it is 19th century technology that is constraining our best efforts to improve train service in the 21st century. It’s a challenging project that is disruptive to the area but we do not have the luxury of waiting. Our antiquated infrastructure needs to updated if we are going to compete economically with 49 other states and internationally.”


The forum also touched on plans for a divergent diamond interchange, which would change the flow of traffic where East Avenue intersects with I-95.

“A divergent diamond interchange, also known as a DDI, allows two directions of traffic to temporarily cross to the left side of the road,” the North Carolina Department of Transportation states in a YouTube video.

“Part of the reason I am here is I need to hear back from you. This is a relatively new issue but … I can’t represent you unless I hear what your thoughts are on this,” Perone said.

“People’s concerns with it are the scope and impact it’s going to have on East Norwalk,” Perone said.  He compared the situation to the initial ideas presented for the Merritt Parkway/Route 7 interchange, with “4-story high ramps and a cloverleaf” with “mile-long ramps.”

“Bless their hearts, they are doing it in the name of safety, and I get that, but does it have to go to that degree?” he asked.

“I think it’s something that we need to hit the pause button on because (of) the potential for eminent domain and property takings there alone, going down to say, Rite Aid, just to accommodate the design,” Cece said.

“You’re right, these projects have a way of gaining momentum even when they’re not even officially a part of the list of projects to be completed,” Perone said.

Perone also talked about the need to get money into the state’s Transportation Fund, so that Transit Oriented Development could move ahead in various parts of the state in addition to the need to repair 332 bridges. The debt service is coming out of the principal, and “we are not insolvent yet but that’s where it’s heading,” he said.

Lamont campaigned on installing tolls for tractor trailer traffic only, but that would only fund 25 percent of what’s needed, he said.

Video by Harold Cobin:


7 responses to “Perone tackles hot issues in East Norwalk forum”

  1. John Levin

    Chris Perone is a class act. Considerate, open minded, knowledgeable, and motivated to find reasonable solutions to real problems. I wish we had more like him in Hartford.

    I would be impressed if our city administration, including Mayor Rilling, were to reconsider their prior actions, dispose of the ‘navigable waterway’ designation for the Norwalk River, and find a more cost effective and environmentally suitable solution for the Walk Bridge project, rather than continue spending $1 billion where it isn’t needed. Doing so would be a policy reversal, but it would reflect courage, and smarts, in my opinion.

  2. Mike Mushak

    Eliminating the federal channel would be one of the biggest planning mistakes ever made in the city’s history. But don’t take my word for it, just read this NoN article about the Harbor Commission’s opinion:


    Closing the federal channel would violate a majority of the listed goals of our state-approved and federally-mandated Harbor Management Plan, including maintain current channels and navigation, protect public health, safety, and welfare, protect and enhance water-dependent uses including recreational boating, pursue economic growth and community development, preserve maritime heritage and the character of waterfront neighborhoods including scenic quality, and maintain environmental quality.

    Once that upper river silted up into a reed-filled mudflat like what happened to the Saugatuck in Westport north of Route 1, we’d have an environmental and economic catastrophe on our hands besides the loss of historic and valuable water views for all the waterfront properties.

    Imagine floodwaters from increasingly intense storms spreading out now across residential and industrial properties including all the condo buildings and King Industries and Devine Brothers, or scouring out and breaching the levee on our $400 million wastewater treatment plant causing raw sewage to flow unimpeded for weeks or months into the harbor, or eroding the base of the capped landfill at Oystershell Park causing partial collapse of contaminated sediment into the river. Not a pretty site.

    Turning the upper river into a reed-filled mud flat would also impact fish spawning and migration up the river, and raise water temperatures and reduce oxygen levels creating more summertime fish kills and affecting wading birds and other wildlife. Imagine the low tide stench of rotting muck wafting into SoNo, East Norwalk, and Wall Street every day at low tide. We have some of that now of course but image it times ten.

    And would all those rowers want to lose their use of the upper river as it became a shallow mudflat for most of the day where they could get grounded even at high tide? ? Isn’t some of the best rowing now in the upper river where wave action is limited?

    Of course we could continue to dredge, but totally on Norwalk taxpayers dime as no one would be there to help us pay for our mistake in removing a federal channel, and also with the added complication of using low-profile dredges and barges to fit under a fixed bridge that adds a huge cost to dredging. Can we afford that on top of all of our other commitments? Why would Norwalk taxpayers agree to another huge liability to pay for dredging especially if we had the choice now of not accepting that? It makes no sense, which is why Mayor Rilling and so many others are not accepting that option.

    And don’t forget the property values of all the properties on the federal channel who have access to that channel, whether they use it or not at the current time. That access is worth potentially hundreds of millions if all future value is added up and suddenly removed, which will be argued in courtrooms for decades but guaranteed will cost taxpayers much more than building the movable bridge. And if is a local decision to remove the channel, guess who will pay out those liabilities? Thats right, Norwalk taxpayers will get the bill. No thanks!

    And what about the cost of adding tens of thousands of heavy truck trips on our streets every year, as each barge going to Devine Brothers represents about 400 truck trips? And if Devine were bought out and paid to move, where would they go? East Norwalk? SoNo? Imagine the outcry. And if they were bought out at a price to make them disappear, where would all the concrete come from for all the local building and road projects? Imagine the environmental costs and extra traffic of all those extra truck trips, from Bridgeport lets say. Not to mention the cost to local contractors that would have to be passed on to consumers or taxpayers.

    And for those who say we don’t want industry in our upper river anymore, I just point them to Granville Island in Vancouver, where I visited once. A concrete plant sits there, covered in artistic painting including the trucks painted to match in a giant internationally-known revolving art show, yet coexisting side by side with residential and commercial uses. Its become part of the vibrancy that makes it unique and exciting place to live and work and go to school (theres a college across the street.) Same with the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, attracting artists and new businesses who don’t want a sanitized packaged waterfront.

    So we can keep our historic water-dependent industries and bank on them as part of our unique heritage that makes Norwalk special. Removing the federal channel eliminates that mixed-use future, that we may not even know at this point what potential there is someday.

    So, why would the city ever agree to a fixed bridge that costs about 90% of a movable bridge according to reports, yet causes the city to lose a federal channel for a mile and a half into its growing downtown, where someday water taxis and recreational boating and other water-dependent uses may expand? And whey would we ever agree to reduce our grand list significantly by reduced waterfront values, as water views become mud flats and water dependent uses including recreational boating disappear?

    As I said, and based on all the evidence I have seen, I agree with many others who already know that removing the federal channel north of the Walk Bridge would be one of the biggest and most expensive planning mistakes the city could ever make. In fact, it would be just plain stupid, but that doesn’t seem to stop a lot of folks from supporting it, including some with purely political motivations. They’d make a better case if they agreed to live on the new stinky mudflat and show us a real plan to pay for all the hundreds of millions of lost property values along the river and costs for future dredging for generations to come, without impacting Norwalk taxpayers.

  3. Al Bore

    The current administration will make the mistake and move forward with the walk bridge plan as it now stands, no one in city hall right now has a clue. By the way they will all get re-elected in November, it is a shame.

  4. Piet Marks

    Amen Mike, why would anyone want to get rid of a navigable channel and the potentially highly taxable real estate on its banks for further residential development as well as for recreational uses.

  5. Mike Mushak

    I’m curious why the ENNA, which claims it represents East Norwalk, seems opposed to beautifying and improving East Ave as a gateway to East Norwalk, and solving the dangerous and frustrating bottleneck of traffic at Exit 16 that often backs up traffic down East Ave to the cemetery, up East Ave towards City Hall, and even out onto the travel lanes of 95 at times.

    The divergent diamond intersection (DDI) as presented makes the intersection safer for all users as it eliminates left turns and the sudden stops we are all familiar with, reducing accidents and injuries as it improves traffic flow on and off the highway. Why would anyone be opposed to a plan that improves public safety and functionality? Because it’s new? Why “hit the pause button”, when no plan has even been presented yet?

    Why doesn’t the ENNA get involved in the planning process, to learn more about the project instead of automatically opposing every new improvement?

    Let me share a story. Our neighborhood in SoNo represented by the Golden Hill Association got very involved with the DOT and with DPW with major plans about 10 years ago to close and replace 3 major bridges over 95, on Taylor, Cedar, and Fairfield, and rebuild Cedar St to improve traffic flow and make it more attractive and safer. Our business community of over 20 mostly minority-owned businesses, and the commercial property owners, began meeting and were totally on board with it once they knew the facts.

    Instead of declaring opposition and demanding “hitting pause buttons”, we sat down with state and local staff, got invited to all their meetings, and helped make the project run smoother and added design input in a collaborative process that was mutually beneficial. For instance, we got more sidewalks on CT Ave, more crosswalks on Cedar, and state of the art pervious paving.

    When the project hit snags like scheduling delays or the discovery of an old 19th century sewer that wasn’t on any plans, we worked with staff and made it easier for everyone although it was highly disruptive. No drama, no accusations, no insults were needed to have our input respected.

    At the ribbon cutting for Cedar St, after 5 years of major disruptions caused by DOT’s bridge replacements and our main commercial strip being completely rebuilt, we invited DPW staff, state and local and even federal elected officials, and all the businesses and neighbors to a big street party. Hundreds listened to live jazz and ate great food from our local restaurants on Cedar St. It was truly a Norwalk moment of celebrating diversity and collaboration and making our city better.

    I say all this because it seems GHA took a wholly different approach than ENNA seems to be taking to dealing with major changes that we knew in the end would make our neighborhood safer, more attractive, and easier to navigate. It was a true collaboration, not a confrontation.

    And when an elected official like Chris Perone, who I admire, astonishingly uses exaggeration and misleading comparisons to influence public opinion, we have a real issue here. The DDI is not at all like the original Merritt/7 interchange with “4-story high clovetleafs and mile-long ramps”. Not even close!

    The DDI is an at-grade design that hasn’t even been designed yet, so there’s no plan to even respond to. This was a huge disappointment and embarrassing actually. If our elected officials opposed the replacement of the 3 crumbling bridges over 95 in our neighborhood and the reconstruction of Cedar St, we would have been shocked and wondered what the agenda might be.

    This in fact seems more about politics to appease a small vocal group than what is best for East Norwalk and the thousands of folks who get stuck in that bottleneck every day. I beg Chris Perone to keep an open mind to new ideas and not draw conclusions before plans are even presented. We have enough knee-jerk opposition to change in this city without it spreading to our elected officials who need to represent everyone, including our business community and concerned citizens who are not at the meetings, fairly and without bias, especially when the protection of public health and safety are involved which is a core responsibility of government.

    And I’m just curious: Has an honest and informational (not misleading as often happens to skew results) poll of East Norwalk residents (and businesses!) occurred to see how they feel about the plan to improve this dangerous corridor by burying utilities, adding street trees and historic lights, improving traffic flow, and eliminating the bottleneck that causes lengthy delays and frequent accidents and injuries in this area? Is the ENNA really representing the majority of East Norwalk including it’s business community, or just a few vocal members who historically are opposed to everything as an automatic response and who have used confrontation and not collaboration as their go-to strategy no matter what the issue?

  6. Otto Delupe

    Why does it seem like this is the first time Chris Perone has ever been in Norwalk, you know, like at an actual public meeting? Yeah, nice guy but M.I.A.

  7. Mike Mushak

    Here’s an important point I missed in my previous comment about East Avenue. It has to do with how improving traffic flow and the aesthetics of East Avenue will help improve property values and attract new businesses and jobs to Norwalk, which helps everyone.

    We will never know exactly how many home sales and business opportunities both north and south of Exit 16 (including north into Bettswood, Wolfpit, and Cranbury and south into Marvin Beach) have been lost because of the bottleneck at Exit 16 and East Avenue, but we can imagine that it may be quite a lot.

    Imagine a potential home buyer or investor or business owner getting stuck in that gridlock on the ramp at Exit 16 for 2 light cycles, then being forced to navigate the white-knuckle jockeying it takes to get through that mess. How many folks have stopped right there and said forget about it, we’re not doing this every day? How many sales and contracts have been cancelled when folks experience this mess?

    How does the character-less and unattractive landscape of gas stations and utility poles and lack of trees and greenery in what is the commercial heart of East Norwalk say to potential home buyers or business investors “yes, we care about you and want you to be proud of where you live”?

    Neighborhoods all over America are actively seeking beautification and safety improvements through Complete Streets solutions to improve quality of life and safety for pedestrians and cyclists as well as vehicles, and burying utilities and adding street trees and better lighting, and improving walkability especially near transit stops based on decades of successful case studies. How could anyone think that opposing these improvements are somehow helping current and future residents and business owners?

    Oh, and I just got my hair cut on Friday at Liberty Square and used the new parking meters. Cost me 50 cents and I got a spot right in front of the salon, and the lot was clean and attractive with more improvements coming.

    As I recall, didn’t ENNA take a position against these meters (that encourage much-needed parking turnover instead of long-term parking, to help the businesses attract customers) and other parking lot improvements and maintenance that the meters make possible?

    And what about the recent proposal to ban the firing of shotguns at waterfowl in the public park at Calf Pasture? As I recall, didn’t ENNA oppose this effort even though many folks from East Norwalk have wanted to see this ban put into effect for decades? (It didn’t ban hunting from boats, just from the shoreline where folks walk every morning.)

    Im just curious who ENNA is representing these days, and what their track record of fighting to make East Norwalk a better community is. I’d love to see a list of what projects and initiatives they support.

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