NORWALK, Conn. — Top brass met Friday in a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Walk Bridge construction.
“The day that we’ve all been waiting for is finally here,” Mayor Harry Rilling said.
The overall project, which includes four nearby railroad bridges and track work needed to make the massive rebuild possible, has been ongoing for years. But officials say the work on the Walk Bridge itself, the 1896-built railroad bridge over the Norwalk River, is beginning.
“What we’re starting now is the underwater work, some abutment work that will allow us to eventually build the bridge and float it up and put it into place,” said Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto.
ConnDOT has gotten the necessary permits to use Manresa Island for construction activities, he said.
Officials including Gov. Ned Lamont, Connecticut’s two U.S. Senators and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) met in the North Water Street municipal lot, next to the Maritime Aquarium’s partially demolished IMAX Theater, to mark the progress they see in the years-old effort to replace the bridge.
In 2014, the Walk Bridge failed twice within two weeks, causing a commuter nightmare and bringing urgency to the decades-old awareness that it needed to be replaced. An emergency declaration was signed.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz called Friday’s event a “very important announcement of more than $900 million in federal funding.”
“A lot of work has been happening behind the scenes for several years to get us to this day. The Walk bridge is one of the oldest movable bridges in the region, on the busiest rail corridor in the nation, pre pandemic, over 120,000 passengers and 175 trains went over this bridge daily,” Eucalitto said. “Before the current administration in Washington, there were fits and starts at the federal level when it came to passenger rail investment. Now, because of the bipartisan infrastructure law, there are billions of dollars allocated for rail improvements.”
“This day was not inevitable. The groundbreaking was not destined to happen until President Joe Biden was sworn into office,” U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said.
“It was a fight, let me tell you, it was a fight to the very top of the administration, to the leadership of the United States Senate,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. “…I will just talk about the elephant in the room. We face a threat to that funding right now. We face a threat to infrastructure, to public health funding, to other kinds of essential resources that benefit the people of this nation from misguided efforts to throttle and undermine those projects like this one, midway through. So, we still have a fight ahead.”
The Walk Bridge “was built before there were cars, just to put this in a little bit of perspective,” Lamont said.
Though Eucalitto and others said the bridge was built when Grover Cleveland was President, Blumenthal said he thinks the Coolidge Administration doesn’t get enough credit.
“A great nation can’t compete in the world. When it is relying on 100-year-old bridges or roads with potholes. We can’t compete globally,” Blumenthal said.
“Our administration has been laser focused on improving the commute times to New York. So this is really important for that this project is going to address traffic and pedestrian safety issues. And it’s going to bring more tourism to Norwalk and this whole area,” Bysiewicz said.
“We’re going to be able to speed up transportation. We’re going to take the Walk Bridge and turn it into a run bridge, we’re going to be able to go that much faster…. we’re going to be able to get from Bridgeport to New York in the same time it gets to right now from Stamford to New York. That opens up the whole ecosystem, brings more of our cities in the play,” Lamont said.
Rilling said of course the work will have a local impact but he’s optimistic it will be minimal, “Because ConnDOT is working so hard to make that happen along with our team. … But we’ll get through it. We’re Norwalk strong, and we’ll make sure that everything works.”
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