New plans may speed building, repairs

The George Washington Bridge is nearly a mile long and took four years to build.

The Bald Hill Bridge in Wilton is considerably shorter, but nearly three years have passed since the town began pursuing its replacement, the effort tied up in bureaucratic red tape.

Another bridge proposal — that of a mere walkway to connect the train station to Wilton Center — hasn’t made it off the drawing board for several years.

First Selectman Bill Brennan is hoping the winds of change are blowing Wilton’s way with several pieces of legislation having been proposed in Hartford that could blast the legislative logjam impeding progress.

Gov. Dannel Malloy was expected to introduce yesterday, Feb. 6, two pieces of legislation he says will ease and streamline the design and construction of municipal road and bridge projects by reducing red tape and allowing municipal governments to put federal transportation dollars into capital investments rather than administrative costs.

The governor announced the details of the legislation last month at the annual meeting of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, which was attended by municipal leaders from throughout the state.

Wilton First Selectman Bill Brennan welcomed the news, and sent testimony dated Saturday, Feb. 2, to the co-chairmen of the Transportation Committee.

In his testimony, he wholeheartedly endorsed Mr. Malloy’s proposal.

“Since 2010, the Town has been pursuing the replacement of a small bridge on Bald Hill Road over the East Branch of the Silvermine River, a span over which a 10-year-old could easily toss a baseball!

“As the bridge when completed will cost very close to $1 million, the town required federal/state assistance under the current Local Bridge Program. However, the glacial bureaucracy that is involved in the tedious process is very costly and highly inefficient.”

The situation was becoming so tedious, in 2011 Mr. Brennan appealed personally to DOT Commissioner Jim Redeker. The commissioner later conveyed plans to “fix” the process.

“The Bald Hill Bridge project in Wilton, under the current program, will take approximately four years from start to finish!” Mr. Brennan said. “Under the governor’s legislative proposal, the process would be substantially improved and easily take less than a year.”

The governor’s proposal would allocate $15 million of state capital funding into the Local Bridge Program, streamline administrative requirements and extend the deadline for submitting applications.

How much of an effect this will have on the Bald Hill Bridge is unclear.

“We have approved the bridge design, which must now be converted into a final design plan, and then after construction bids are obtained, the bridge must be built,” Mr. Brennan said. “It may save a little time at the end, but realistically not much.”

Wilton Center

Mr. Brennan also testified in support of H.B. 5448, a bill introduced by Wilton’s state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-125), which calls for “authorizing bonds of the state to provide greater access to mass transit and to increase commercial activity around the Wilton train station.” The town would use the money for a paved pedestrian walkway.

For several years Wilton has applied for state funds through the Transit Oriented Development and STEAP grant programs. Despite positive feedback, the town was never awarded a grant for the project.

Ms. Lavielle, who was recently named ranking member of the Transportation Subcommittee of the General Assembly Appropriations Committee, testified before the Transportation Committee Monday, Feb. 4. Although the bill does not specify a dollar amount, she said the cost is in the area of $500,000.

“Transit-oriented development is a big magic word now. Everyone wants to do it,” she said in a phone interview on Wednesday, adding that Wilton Center has the main ingredients already: retail, commercial and residential units.

“If you just build this bridge you get instant TOD. All you have to do is build a bridge and you’ve got it.”

Mr. Brennan’s testimony outlined the following points:

• The project would “improve pedestrian safety and enhance the economic vitality of our town center.”

• The walkway “presents an opportunity to increase the independence and quality of life for our senior citizens” particularly in light of the construction of the nearby Wilton Commons senior housing project.

• The walkway would “offer an attractive alternative for commuters who either live or work within one half mile radius of the train station.”

• The design and construction “would also create employment opportunities for Connecticut engineers and construction firms.”

The project would eliminate several barriers between the train station and downtown including the rail line, Norwalk River and the elevated section of Route 33.

Ms. Lavielle said she recognized the bill is a request for bonding “at a time of severe financial constraint for the state” but added it “is a project that meets many TOD objectives with a very modest investment.”

Eventually the Transportation Committee will meet and the chairmen — Sen. Andrew Maynard and Rep. Antonio Guerrera — will screen the bills. Some will be killed in committee and others will move forward. If it moves forward, Ms. Lavielle said it will most likely be referred to the Finance Committee.