Walkway to town center is a go

They say three times is the charm, but it took Wilton a fourth try to win a grant for the construction of a pedestrian walkway to connect the Wilton train station and town center. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office announced Monday, May 19, Wilton will receive a $500,000 Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant for the project.

“These small town grants allow the state to partner with municipalities on projects that will help improve our communities, rebuild our infrastructure, and create jobs,” Mr. Malloy said in a press release. “These are investments that will make our towns a better place to live and work, will increase the quality of life, and help attract economic development and growth.”

First Selectman Bill Brennan called this is a “real economic victory” for the town. Saying it was a “team effort,” he credited success for winning the grant to a concerted effort by Wilton legislators state Sen. Toni Boucher, and state Reps. Gail Lavielle and Tom O’Dea in supporting the project, as well as letters of support written by U.S. Congressman Jim Himes and citizens, including those who live at Wilton Commons, which is near the train station. Town Planner Bob Nerney prepared the grant request.

The Wilton Station Walkway will include a paved walkway and pedestrian bridge over the Norwalk River and surrounding floodplain connecting the train station, Wilton Commons, an office building, and Trackside Teen Center with Wilton Center and several residential communities immediately south of the center of town. Currently, to get from the train station to Wilton Center (a distance of only about 500  feet), pedestrians must walk nearly a mile along steeply sloped roadways and a heavily traveled section of Route 7.

Mr. Brennan acknowledged this was the fourth grant application for the project, going back to 2007, including two applications to the state for a DOT Transportation Oriented Development grant.

“The most important thing to recognize is that persistence paid off,” he said. “This is a dream come true. We never gave up on it. … The whole area will be improved.”

He added, it “will be a great benefit to rail transit users, as convenient access to the station and village center will now become a reality. Wilton Commons residents will also have a convenient way to safely walk to the village center. So there will be many winners when this pedestrian walkway is completed.”

Ms. Lavielle said the walkway will “add a whole new dimension to our town.”

“This project has important safety, economic development, environmental, and quality of life benefits, and it fits perfectly with the transit-oriented development goals shared by the administration and legislators on both sides of the aisle,” she said. “While transit-oriented development projects often cost millions of dollars and entail years of development and construction because they involve building new housing and retail around mass-transit facilities, Wilton needs only the bridge and walkway to move to the next level. This project’s simplicity is one of its most persuasive features.”

Ms. Boucher hailed Mr. Brennan’s advocacy of the project.

“He and the [legislative] delegation have recognized the considerable taxpayer contributions that come from Wilton residents — many of them seniors. This is a return investment into the community that will help stimulate the economic development this area needs,” she said.

Mr. Brennan said it would take about a year to get through the design and engineering process and pledged to work to bring the project — originally budgeted at $546,000 — in as close to $500,000 as possible.

A total of 28 towns were awarded STEAP grants in this round of funding. The program  funds economic development, community conservation, and quality of life projects for localities ineligible to receive Urban Action bonds. The program is administered by Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management. Localities may receive up to $500,000 per year if (1) their population is under 30,000, (2) they are not designated as a distressed municipality, and (3) they do not have an urban center.