Wilton may have a “bridge to nowhere” elsewhere in town, but we now have our long-awaited bridge to somewhere — the pedestrian bridge connecting the Wilton Train Station to Wilton Center, Merwin Meadows and the Norwalk River Valley Trail.
Town officials celebrated the official opening of the bridge with a ribbon cutting on Thursday afternoon, June 15.
Efforts to make the pedestrian bridge a reality go back to at least 2007. Current First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice invited her predecessor, former First Selectman Bill Brennan to help cut the ribbon, paying tribute to the work done under his administration in getting the idea started and securing the initial funding to make it a reality.
Some of the people Vanderslice thanked on her long list were the legislators who secured initial funding from the state in 2014 — $500,000 from a Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant — with the help of former State Rep. Gail Lavielle, former State Sen. Toni Boucher, State Rep. Tom O’Dea, and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, as well as former Town Planner Bob Nerney.
With that grant money in hand, the town moved to the design phase, which took longer than anticipated with so many state and federal agencies needing to provide input. By the time the project went out to bid in 2017, it became clear that it would cost much more to build than the original grant covered.
Back to the grant search officials went, and in February 2020, the Town finally received a commitment from the State Department of Transportation, promising $1,405,200 in grant money for bridge construction.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the project’s momentum, with slowdowns at the state level that brought the planning to a virtual standstill. It also slowed down the approval process, with everyone from CT-DOT to the Army Corps of Engineers needing to weigh in on the project.
From the start Wilton officials have emphasized the importance of the bridge as part of an overall plan to ensure the vitality and appeal of Wilton Town Center. Their belief that a much shorter way for pedestrians to get across the Norwalk River from the train station into town would be a benefit to residents and visitors alike.
They also say the bridge will complement other plans to energize Wilton Center, including Schenck’s Island improvements and work along the Norwalk Riverwhere views of the river have been opened. Work on the development of a Master Plan for the Center and surrounding Route 7 area are expected to begin this fiscal year, led by Planning and Zoning and other officials.
“It all opens up opportunities for the other side of this area. It opens up possibilities,” Vanderslice said.
Looking beyond that, officials hope that the bridge will help facilitate mixed used development around the Wilton train station, to increase the value and development prospects of 3.5 acres of undeveloped town-owned land on Station Rd., and to incentivize new residential options within the Town Center. It’s part of the expectation that greater residential density will ensure the economic vitality of the Center.
Her belief that the bridge will be a well-used and an important addition to the Town’s has started to come true.
“This bridge is really getting used quite a bit. I have been walking down here to watch for usage and every time I’m down here, there’s somebody on it,” she said, adding, “I see baby carriages being pushed across. My husband runs this route. He was stunned to run by and see what’s happened.”
Vanderslice also thanked several current and former town employees for getting the project to the finish line, but then made sure to give credit to the another group of people that made it happen.
“Equally important, a thank you to the state taxpayers, because it was the taxpayers of the state of Connecticut who ultimately funded the project,” she said.