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: