Updated, 7 p.m., comment from Mayor Richard Moccia regarding street sweepers.
NORWALK, Conn. – Incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Moccia has been crowing about the amount of paving done in Norwalk but his Democratic challenger, former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling, says many Norwalk citizens feel it is not enough.
Rilling stood on a badly deteriorated South Norwalk sidewalk Wednesday, next to photos of potholes from every part of town, to condemn the Moccia administration’s efforts on the “quality of life issues.”
“I am under the impression that in the last eight years there’s been $30 million allocated to paving roads,” he said. “I don’t see the results of that. I see too many times where the road is repaved, and then all of a sudden someone else is coming along and digging it up. The patch that they make either sinks or it rises above. You’ve got your built-in speed bump or you’ve got your built-in pothole, whatever you want to call it. So I think more needs to be done, more coordination, responsible money put towards the roads and sidewalks.”
Rilling said he had talked to many people as he went door to door and he heard “over and over and over again” about the deplorable condition of Norwalk’s sidewalks and roads. The photos had been contributed by those citizens, from all over the city. He chose 112 Woodward Ave. as the location of his press conference because he had gotten a phone call from a resident and come down to look and said “It was bad.” Yet, he said, it was not as bad as some of the sidewalks he has seen.
“On privately owned sidewalks, for the most part, it’s the citizens responsibility, but if nobody is out there inspecting them and saying ‘look, we need to get this done and we can work with you and help you’ – that’s what I am going to do,” he said. “I will also make sure that there’s a responsible amount of money put aside for these kinds of things, the potholes in the road.”
Rilling said he lives in West Norwalk and drives routinely on Scribner Avenue, Taylor Avenue and Cedar Street, occasionally needing to go into the opposite lane to avoid a pothole and protect his shock absorbers.
“There’s stronger leadership needed, leadership with a plan,” he said. “… If you let the small things go it gives the impression that nobody cares and the big things follow very closely. Nobody wants to come in and invest. Nobody wants to buy a house. If you’re driving up and down a street and the road is full of potholes, there’s weeds growing out from the between the gutter and the curb, it doesn’t look clean. “
But how would he do that, given the financial crunch?
“I can’t quantify it because, unless you have a total clear picture of just exactly what is needed to be done, and have a plan in place to do it … You need to then budget after you do that,” he said. “That would be one of my goals, find out exactly how severe the problem is. I can look here and say it’s pretty severe. So could more capital dollars be put into it? Perhaps.”
Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said the department has not gotten complaints about sidewalks.
“We have 140 miles of sidewalk in this city,” he said. “The responsibility for sidewalk repair and maintenance is with the existing homeowner. I’m supposed to go out and inspect sidewalks. I don’t have any people.”
Alvord recently said Norwalk’s Paving Condition Index (PCI), which is computed by a consultant every year, was rated as 75 for 2012. It was 72 in 2008. Both numbers are regarded as “fair” by the Institute of Traffic Engineers, Alvord said.
Alvord had been making a pitch at the July Public Works Committee meeting for an additional $1 million a year for road paving, as the “low hanging fruit” among the 255 miles of roadway had been done. That money was needed if council members wanted to get the PCI up, he said.
On Wednesday, he said progress is being made.
“If Harry wants to make a campaign issue out of it by pointing out a crack on the sidewalk on one little spot in the city, fine. That’s his right. He’s running for office,” he said. “But we’re fixing more infrastructure today than we’ve been doing in 20 years, trying to make up for 20 years of neglect. Roads, sidewalks and everything else. If the city wants us to repair all of the sidewalks in the city it’s going to be tens of millions of dollars to do it. That’s why it’s not all done, because it’s been let go for a long time and now we’re trying to do makeup. The city can’t afford to do it all at once.”
The city is focusing on roads, with city funding, he said. Bridges are being repaired with 80 percent federal funding, he said. Traffic signal work is being done before the signals fail with 100 percent federal funding, he said.
“What’s he going to do, raise taxes 50 percent? And then we have to have staff to manage it,” Alvord said.
Rilling said he talked to numerous people who said they had been promised their road would be paved, only to have it pushed back.
“One guy told me his road was pushed back five years in a row and he’s looking for someone to give him relief. The road is a disaster.” he said, referring to a small one-way street he said he wouldn’t name, to protect a homeowner who fears retribution.
“That’s the reality of where we live,” Alvord said. “We have a 5-year plan that we put out there and it’s based on $6 million in paving. We don’t get $6 million a year, we get $5 million a year. I don’t have enough people to do separate sidewalk contracts so we do sidewalks as part of our road paving program and we do those as we pave roads. We do the same thing with general drainage so we can fix the drainage on the roads as we’re paving.”
Rilling said that, several months ago, he had been in Sono on a Saturday morning, and found a disposable diaper in the gutter, which, he said, “really made me shake my head.” A well-dressed woman with two children came along, he said.
“The lady said ‘we came in on the train to Sono because we heard so much about it, we wanted to see what it was like, but it’s a ghost town and your streets are terrible,” Rilling said.
She was from Brooklyn, he said.
The diaper was still there the following Wednesday, just before the Sono Stroll, he said.
“Only since I have started mentioning these types of things, now, shortly before November, the sweeper truck is now reappearing in the streets of Norwalk where it’s been non-existent for quite some time,” he said. “I saw one this morning. These kinds of things really send a bad message.”
Moccia said he has no control over the street sweepers. The DPW sets the schedule, he said.
“So here we go again, if no sweeper goes out, I am not doing the job,” he said in an email. “If the DPW sends it out, it’s because of the election. Also shortly before the November election!! Not sure when he saw the sweeper, but even from today there are 32 days until November. Not exactly shortly before an election.”