NORWALK, Conn. – Three Norwalkers voiced their objections to the Rowayton Bridge widening project last week, but the Common Council voted to go ahead with the next phase of work.
The matter will now be sent to the state Department of Transportation for the design phase. Although the city has committed to going forward, the project isn't set in stone yet. The state will take the city's design concept, study the issue and come up with a detailed plan. The impacts on private property won't be known until the state looks at the area and talks to homeowners.
The projects calls for the lowering of Rowayton Avenue under the Metro-North Railroad bridge, a follow-up to recently completed work on the bridge. A safe sidewalk for pedestrians is also the goal as is setting the stage to continue sidewalks down Rowayton Avenue, although nothing is planned yet.
The council voted 9-5 to go ahead. Voting for the project were Democrats David Watts, Carvin Hilliard and Michael Geake and Republicans Doug Hempstead, Fred Bondi, Joanne Romano, Nicholas Kydes, Jerry Petrini and David McCarthy. Voting against were Democrats Bruce Kimmel, Anna Duleep, Warren Pena, Matthew Miklave and John Igneri. Republican Michelle Maggio abstained.
Watts, Hilliard and Geake voted with the Republicans in another matter during the meeting — the selection of the assistant city clerk.
Watts said he had been against the road work when it came out of committee. "My colleagues have persuaded me," he said. "Put it on the record, it is a flip-flop for me."
Much of the discussion concerned eminent domain.
Hal Alvord, director of the Department of Public Works, said the total length of the $2.8 million project is 800 feet and said it would have an impact on nine properties. Easements are expected on the properties, and the homeowners will be compensated. There would be slope easements, meaning that the slope of the properties would be changed, but the square footage would remain the same. One property would have a temporary construction easement. An unstable stone wall would be replaced, which Alvord said is a property improvement.
"It's not a big property interest that is being taken until it's yours," Miklave said. "When you are taking it without their consent it is an big issue and an easement is a property issue."
Safety concerns are driving the project. The slope of the roadway makes headlights shine at the wrong angle, Alvord said, making visibility poor at night.
Karen Brown, who lives south of the bridge, spoke during the public comment part of the meeting. She worries that the project would go against the character of the neighborhood and would bring more traffic and more trucks as well as the removal of old growth trees and antique stone walls.
Lisa Jewett said her home is next to the bridge. "Literally, my house could be the train station," she said, adding that she chose it purposefully. But the previous work was "awful," and she was skeptical that the next project would be done in the 13 months the city predicts.
Tammy Langalis, a Sixth Taxing District commissioner, said the roadway is already low enough and all of the city's emergency vehicles can fit under the bridge, except the Norwalk Fire Department's aerial ladder truck. She said the road is all ready much better, now that the work has been done on the bridge. "The improvements and the sightlines are so much better than they were 10 years ago, it's really fantastic," she said. "We'd like to ask the city to minimize the roadwork and seek strategic solution that works for the neighborhood."