Two Branchville grant projects to go before Ridgefield voters on Nov. 29

A rebuilt bridge, an additional traffic light, and a renovated look for Branchville with new sidewalks and street lamps — altogether a nearly $7-million package in two state and federal grant proposals — will be put before voters the week after Thanksgiving.

“This is a huge project for the town — $6.8 million combined,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the selectmen.

The town’s share of the two grants is projected to be something over $600,000.

The Board of Selectmen scheduled the two Branchville grants for a public hearing and town meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 29, starting at 7:30 in town hall.

And the Board of Finance will meet next Tuesday, Nov. 21, at 7:30 to consider the town’s $600,000-plus share of the two projects’ cost.

“It’ll be on their agenda,” Marconi told the selectmen.

In addition to discussing the plans Wednesday night, Nov. 8, the selectmen walked the site with state officials and major Branchville area property owners Monday afternoon, Nov. 6.

Bridge rebuilding

One project focuses on reconstructing the Portland Avenue bridge at the south end of the Branchville train station. It is to be covered by a $4.8-million grant, with the town’s share projected at $208,000.

The project would involve adding another traffic light on Route 7 at the intersection of Portland Avenue, where a turning lane would be added for southbound cars wanting to go left onto Portland Avenue — which would become the only entrance to the train station. The plan is for the new light to be coordinated with the other Branchville light, at the intersection of Route 102, which would be reconfigured to better accommodate pedestrians wanting to cross.

Other aspects of the project are the closing of the Depot Road railroad crossing at the north end of the train station, and the conversion of the Depot Road bridge over the Norwalk River to a one-way out onto Route 7 — with the result that Portland Avenue would be the only way into the train station.

If a one-way Depot Road bridge can accommodate a sidewalk as well as motor vehicles, a sidewalk would likely be added. If not, a separate pedestrian bridge might be built there.

With the closing of the Depot Road railroad crossing, Portland Avenue’s intersection with West Branchville Road — on the Redding side of the railroad tracks — would have to be reconfigured so trucks could turn north off Portland Avenue to access the self-storage facility on West Branchville Road.

Town officials had lobbied for the new Portland Avenue bridge to intersect Route 7 directly across from Old Town Road, but state officials said this didn’t seem realistic — although they did say at Monday’s site walk that they’d take another look at it. Marconi said the problem stemmed from “a floodway” in the vicinity.

Sidewalks, street lamps

The other Branchville project involves a $2,050,000 grant, with the town’s share $410,000, to improve “pedestrian connectivity” in Branchville. It involves adding sidewalks and street lamps, mostly on the west side of Route 7, from the Wilton town line north past Route 102 and the Little Pub. There would be a new pedestrian bridge over Cooper Brook, beside Route 102 near the Tusk and Cup. And the traffic light at Route 102 would be reworked to better serve pedestrians.

Members of the Board of Selectmen expressed some concerns in discussing the grants Wednesday night, Nov. 8, two days after their site walk with property owners.

Maureen Kozlark wondered about having sidewalks so close beside a major highway such as Route 7.

“It is a little scary.”

In Wilton, where there are similar sidewalks along Route 7, she said, they are little used.

“They don’t walk on the sidewalks in Wilton,” Kozlark said.

Town Engineer Charles Fisher said the plan was aimed at encouraging redevelopment in the Branchville area.

“The whole hope is to get a mixed residential-commercial use,” Fisher said.

He pointed to the area along Route 35, between Grove Street and Farmingville Road, where sidewalks and street lamps had been put in to serve, complement and encourage more mixed-use development with stores, apartments and offices.

“I think Danbury Road is the closest analogy,” Fisher said.

The grant agreements call for the design costs to be handled by the state and federal governments if the projects proceed — but the town would have to pick up the design costs if it doesn’t come up with its share of the construction costs.

Marconi told the selectmen that if voters didn’t approve the town’s share of the construction money, the plug would be pulled on the plan before more money is spent on design.

“There’s no way we’re going to sign an agreement where this could be voted down and we’re on the hook for design costs,” Maroni said. “If the town meeting fails, it’s over.”