State ‘30 percent’ there on Walk Bridge design

Photo by Geoff Steadman for the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission.
Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) officials, Norwalk Harbor Management Commission members and Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) tour the Norwalk River waterfront along the wastewater treatment plant on Tuesday, Sept. 29. (Photo by Geoff Steadman for the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission)

Update, 3 p.m., comment from ConnDOT.

NORWALK, Conn. – A temporary railroad bridge would be built alongside the aged railroad bridge over the Norwalk River as part of the herculean task of replacing the problematic structure, according to a plan devised by the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT).

The new bridge concept is “30 percent there,” according to Norwalk Harbor Management Commission members, who say that the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) might use its muscle to hold the project up. Also, there’s a big decision to be made that will affect the future of Norwalk, according to one member.

Lesser decisions could also change Norwalk in important but lesser ways, they say.

The decision to rebuild the Walk Bridge, which dates to 1896, stems from two 2014 debacles in which the swing bridge failed to close properly – in one instance sending thousands of Metro North passengers walking between East Norwalk and South Norwalk.

The current cost estimate for the project is between $400 and $500 million, ConnDOT Director of Communications Judd Everhart said in August. The project is planned to start in February 2017 and be completed in July 2021, according to the Harbor Management Commission.

The Commission is DEEP’s arm in Norwalk, members said. ConnDOT’s application to rebuild the bridge must go through the Harbor Management Commission for review and comment, with the support of DEEP, they said.

To that end, Commission members had a walkthrough of the site last week with ConnDOT engineers and other planners, in what Tony Mobilia called “our first real informational meeting.”

They learned a lot.

The idea of a movable bridge that goes straight up has been discarded, they say. It’s down to two concepts:

  • A bascule bridge that features one piece that hinges on one side
  • A bascule bridge that splits in the middle, with split tracks on either side; that would mean that the tracks would go up and down independently

ConnDOT project manager John Hanifin confirmed that. Hanifin said that while the current bridge has four tracks passing over it, the plan features “two identical bridges with two tracks on each bridge. We have two overall types of bascule bridges on the table and will pick one to be used for both of the new two track bridges.”

ConnDOT plans to divert railroad traffic north of the bridge by creating a bypass, starting “somewhere around Fort Point Street,” Harbor Management Commissioner John Pinto said. That will lead to a temporary bridge, with two tracks, alongside the current bridge.

There also will be a switch on the Norden Place property owned by Metro North, he said. “If a train is coming down Track 4 they will be able to very conveniently switch them onto Track 1,” Pinto said.

So that’s not going to be a movable bridge. What about barges?

“What they’re going to do is, as a regular tug and barge will bring it up (to one side), then they’re going to push it though and have a tug waiting on the other side. It’s a handoff,” Pinto said. “They’ve done it before.”

So if you can handle Norwalk River marine traffic without having a movable bridge, why is the state planning to spend $400 to $500 million to build a bascule bridge?

“That’s the issue. Right. They have to make a decision. The big decision is, do they want to spend $500 million or buy (an extra tugboat) and have a location for it,” Pinto said.

For Pinto, this could change Norwalk permanently.

“I am very cautious about: If they do not allow that bridge to open, allow major boat traffic through there, the developers are going to have a field day. What I don’t want to see is Norwalk look like New York,” Pinto said.

Pinto and other Commission members said there are only two or three industries up the river now; O&G has gone dormant. With a new location in Stamford and its facility in Bridgeport, Norwalk is no longer necessary, Pinto said. Devine Brothers cannot get oil to its facility anymore, they said.

If Norwalk is no longer a working harbor, developers will put tall buildings up and down the Norwalk River, blocking the view of the water, Pinto said.

“(Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene) said there are some major developers that are chomping at the bit to come in here,” Pinto said. “I said that’s interesting, I hope everybody does right by Norwalk because we can’t just keep packing people in here without knowing is our infrastructure capable of handling that.”

“I think that there’s always development interest along the waterfront,” Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said. “I don’t know of any specific developer that is acquiring property at this time for a specific development, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there somebody out there talking to people about acquisitions.”

“If they leave that bridge where they can’t get halfway decent boating traffic up to the head of the harbor, they are going to say ‘what do you need boating for? Why do we need to get anything up the harbor anyway?’” Pinto asked.

Everhart painted that as an unlikely scenario.

“Coast Guard regulations require us to open the bridge for marine traffic,” he said in an email. “It’s not optional – unless someone decides to change those regs, which is not something we would push. The bridge opens for barges and other commercial and pleasure craft. In 2013, the year before the major malfunctions, it opened about 250 times for marine traffic.”

The Commission is charged with overseeing a project’s impact on water-dependent use, water quality and public access. DEEP is all over ConnDOT, they said, at the Commission’s Wednesday meeting.

“Until they are happy with the application they are not concerned with the construction timeline,” Harbor Master Mike Griffin said. “I tell you, if I was looking for a friend in the room it would definitely be DEEP. If I was an applicant I would feel totally different about it because I would realize that DEEP is going to go to every possible limit to review the thing and protect the environment.”

“I found it very interesting, the fact that DEEP is going to demand any environmental issues caused by the construction has to be put back in its original condition, either in a different location or the same location,” Mobilia said.

DEEP is demanding 4-to-1 remediation, commissioners say. “For every square foot of wetlands that is disrupted, they have to remediate four,” Pinto said. “In a way, that works well for us. It works well for Norwalk, certainly.”

“DEEP, when they dislodge water-dependent use that is permitted they have to be able to do their due diligence to see how they can offset that marina with another facility,” Griffin said, referring to Coastwise Boatworks, home of the Maritime Rowing Club.

“That’s an intent. A reality may not make that happen,” John Romano said. “I heard they were going to relocate the rowing clubs, make efforts to find them places, work on their behalf. But (Tony D’Andrea’s Select Plastics) may end up in the middle of town somewhere. Because he’s water dependent in the sense that’s where the bulk of his business comes from, but they’re not going to be able to relocate him on the water.”

“If there is no other location, the DEEP will allow the marina to go into another town,” Pinto said. “We lose the value of that so we have to watch out for that.”

Coastwise gets the right of first refusal, but, “If he is going to take the money and run then there is going to be a problem,” Pinto said. “The next in line is the city.”

Commissioners said they would have to put in a stipulation that the property be sold as a water-dependent use.

“The rowing club could be much more easily relocated as opposed to a 50- to 60-boat marina,” Griffin said, although he also said the rowing club has its equipment in ConnDOT’s right of way.

Pinto said the state owns a sliver of land adjacent to the Stroffolino Bridge. That could be used to give the rowing club a path to the water, he said.

Commissioners like one part of the plan: The new bridge will not have an island underneath it, opening up more space for marine navigation. The opening will align with that of the Stroffolino Bridge, making it a straight shot, they said.

“The DEEP is holding the DOT’s feet to the fire with regard to remediation of wetlands. They are very adamant,” Pinto said.

He and other commissioners appreciate that DEEP wants to put in four times as many plants, which is part of water quality measures.

“We have to keep Norwalk as a working harbor, basically,” Pinto said. “It’s a working harbor, it’s a recreational harbor. I have argued with the Army Corp of Engineers that a barge full of shellfish is worth more than a barge full of gravel.”

A view of Norwalk's Walk Bridge from the west shows how heavily built up one side is. Properties on the other side will be taken by eminent domain, except for historic buildings on Liberty Square, to make a staging area for construction equipment. (Photo by Geoff Steadman for the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission.)
A view of Norwalk’s Walk Bridge from the west shows how heavily built up one side is. Properties on the other side will be taken by eminent domain, except for historic buildings on Liberty Square, to make a staging area for construction equipment. (Photo by Geoff Steadman for the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission.)


10 responses to “State ‘30 percent’ there on Walk Bridge design”

  1. Gordon Tully

    If the temporary bridge goes south of the present bridge, it will take out the new apartment complex and the Imax theater. Somehow I doubt this will happen.

    On the north side, it will take out a piece of the Lock Building and a big piece of the Aquarium. How big a piece depends on how many tracks the temporary bridge has.

  2. Bill Nightingale, Jr

    I fail to see how this project or the attendant rail yards are good for Norwalk. Nor do I see how this is a good deal for taxpayers of CT or federal government. What would the cost be to fix the bridge as is? Do we know for certain it is broken beyond repair? Or is this a Malloy infrastructure boondoggle? Is it good for Norwalk to have these infrastructure projects imposed upon us – like super 7 and Manresa power plant? Speaking of which, maybe the $500mm would be better spent on cleaning up Manresa among many other things.

  3. I think the question here is do we really need an opening railroad bridge? The proposed rebuild, which includes relocation of existing businesses and the eminent domain, does not sound ideal. I cannot fathom how a temporary bridge will fit into the location considering the placement of the Maritime Aquarium. I am sure the engineers will have a plan, but I seriously feel there must be a better solution here.

    Has the DOT considered converting the Walk Bridge into a permanently fixed position bridge and upgrading its structural integrity? Then they could add the extra tugboat if it’s really needed for the one or two businesses that need it, or relocate them and leave all of those businesses alone.

    The whole thing seems far more complex than it should be.

  4. Mike Mushak

    Bill, we all asked the same question early on. But a literal army of engineers from the private and public sector all strongly recommended replacement, as repair was just not a feasible option, as the mechanics would still be subject to storm surge damage. Also, the law now requires “redundancy” in bridge design for the northeast corridor, meaning a double span that can never be fully out of commission as it has duplicate spans and mechanics. Makes sense when you think about it.

    Many of us have been attending these meetings over the past year and strongly advocating for new pedestrian and bike access under the bridge on both sides, connecting regional trail systems and providing public waterfront access, a need recognized in almost 40 years of plans going back to the first Harbor Master Plan of 1979, and restated as a priority in the most recent 2008 Master Plan of Conservation and Development, as well as the 2012 Pedestrian and Bikeway study, 2013 Norwalk River Valley Trail Routing Study, 2006 Mid Harbor Plan, 2004 South Norwalk Planning Study, etc.

    The bridge replacement will be a huge disruption for Norwalk, no doubt. Considering we also hugely benefit from being on the northeast corridor with a connection to Danbury, and that our transportation infrastructure needs have been neglected for the past half-century or more since car travel was made a government priority in the 1950’s, it is the price we have to pay.

  5. WOW just WOW

    Fix the current bridge and call it a day. Anything can be repaired. Its time that the idiot in Hartford stops wasting money that the state doesn’t have.
    Also as far as Mikey stating “Also, the law now requires “redundancy” in bridge design for the northeast corridor”. That would not apply to a repair so that is a non issue. Also Mikey says “Many of us have been attending these meetings over the past year and advocating for new pedestrian and bike access under the bridge on both sides”. Mikey its not many that have been advocating for unused bike lanes in Norwalk. Its you and only you and for some reason Rilling allows you to continue your nonsense. Yet another of the many reasons not to vote for Rilling.

  6. Mike Mushak

    My name is not Mikey, although I do consider it a term of endearment from my new secret admirer with the cool phony name, Wow just Wow. I am truly flattered, although I am not available just got the record.

    Also just for the record, the bike and ped access under the Walk bridge is not my idea. It goes back in plans and studies and master plans for almost 40 years as I explained in my first comment.

    This is not about me, but I am flattered that my new secret admirer WjW assumes it was all my idea.

  7. sofaman

    WjW: The (lack of) wisdom of repairing the bridge vs. replacing it was made clear in the first Town Hall meeting on this topic. Lots of things are replaced vs. repaired because it is smart(er) money.

    FYI, the bike / pedestrian path is for all residents including myself.

  8. WOW just WOW

    The bike paths/lanes that Norwalk currently has are being used by maybe 3 percent of the population of Norwalk at best. Government should not be in the business of catering to 3 percent of the population with the biggest mouths.

    Lots of things are repaired vs. replaced because it is smart(er) money and I have not seen any convincing evidence that this is not the case here.

  9. Mike Mushak

    Evidence shows lower average car speeds, lower accident rates, and lower injury rates for all users on streets with bike lanes, including car occupants and pedestrians. It’s a matter of improving public safety, for people of all ages and abilities including children and elderly.

    Bike lanes are inexpensive, mostly just cheap paint.

    Bike lanes return about $4 in economic activity for every dollar spent on them, an excellent investment.

    Property values and retail sales increase on streets with bike lanes.

    Bike and pedestrian-friendly communities are proven to be more attractive for folks raising families and for retirees.

    The logic of the comment by Wow just Wow could also be used to defund the Fire Department, since they “cater to” only a small percentage of people every year who need them in an emergency.

    Please keep the humorous comments coming, WjW!

  10. WOW just WOW

    […] The fact is that unused bike lanes are destroying Norwalk and making it harder to get around. Bike lanes actually create a false sense safety thus creating more of a hazard.
    [Mike] also stats “The logic of the comment by Wow just Wow could also be used to defund the Fire Department, since they “cater to” only a small percentage of people every year who need them in an emergency.” This comparison is the most ridiculous thing he has posted yet and that is saying something
    Take notice how he doesn’t dispute that a mere 3 percent of residents us the bike lane at best, as he cannot dispute this fact.
    This nonsense will all stop when Rilling is out of office next month.
    Please keep the humorous comments coming, [Mike]!

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