Pedestrian walkway mired in state red tape

The last update the town got from design firm Tighe & Bond pointed to late summer of this year for construction and installation of a pedestrian walkway and bridge to connect the Wilton train station and Wilton Center. That was in November 2015.
Since then, the town’s run facefirst into slow-moving bureaucracy as officials scramble to secure all the necessary approvals from various state and federal agencies, and the hope for an earnest beginning to the project has now shifted to early 2017.
Even still, “I’m hesitant to say,” Town Planner Bob Nerney told The Bulletin. “Our hope is early next year, but it’s just hard to say.”
“We’re moving forward and urging our designer to try to stay on top of it as much as possible, in terms of coordinating and distributing plans and information, and meeting with the state and federal regulatory agencies,” Nerney said.
Lately Nerney’s department has been in discussions with the state Department of Transportation’s rail division, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s floodplain division, and Eversource, among others.
“You have fisheries looking at it; it’s been an interesting process,” Nerney said.
The project site represents an almost perfect convergence of regulated and privately owned territory: the Route 33 bridge, the Norwalk River watershed, and Metro-North Railroad’s Danbury branch train tracks.
“Moving forward, we’re going to be meeting with another player: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Nerney said. The corps is required to review impact applications beyond a certain threshold.
“We don’t expect that to be too burdensome, but then we also have to meet with Metro-North, because in order to bring the bridge in, we’re going to have to cross over the rails,” he said.
Metro-North was recently faced with an incident in which one of its trains hit some idle construction equipment left near the tracks, and Nerney said the railroad wants to make sure that never happens again.
Metro-North officials will be reviewing “time in which the work would be done, use of the staging area, assurances that whatever equipment — including a large crane — would not be disruptive or pose safety issues for trains,” Nerney said.
Other potential setbacks include one in particular that Nerney finds concerning and unpredictable.
“One thing that concerns us is the delays that might be caused due to possible state layoffs within these various departments,” Nerney said. To lose those precious contacts would be to hit the reset button on respective review processes.
While the design and permitting phase of the project is lasting for what may seem like forever to those who remember its beginnings, actual construction of the walkway and bridge won’t take much time, according to the town planner.
“Sometimes when you have certain dynamics in play, the design and permitting phase can actually be much longer than the construction phase,” Nerney said. “The actual construction would last maybe a month or so.”
Wilton made three unsuccessful attempts at winning a grant to fund the pedestrian walkway and bridge project — one of former First Selectman Bill Brennan’s passion projects — in a pursuit that dated back to 2007.
In 2014, the town was finally awarded the $500,000 Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant, and Brennan’s economic development initiative started seeing draft designs.
“The ideal is to try to have it covered entirely by the grant, and I think that is still the plan,” Nerney said.
“It’s kind of ironic,” Nerney said. “As a person who oversees regulatory agencies on the local level, we’re now actually going through it as an applicant. It can be frustrating at times, but you have to kind of go with the flow.”
“Time is getting a little more protracted than we had initially thought, but we’re working on it,” Nerney said.