For months now, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice has been hearing state officials promise that funding would be coming for Wilton’s long-awaited pedestrian bridge connecting the Town Center to the Train Station. But promises meant nothing without anything in writing.
Now, Wilton no longer has to say, “Show me the money!” Vanderslice announced Wednesday that the town has finally received a written commitment from the State Department of Transportation, promising grant money totaling $1,405,200 for construction of the walkway over the Norwalk River.
With that letter in hand, Vanderslice says the Town can now take a giant step forward by sending final drawings to the State for review and requesting permission to bid the project. Once permission is received, the town will put the project out to bid and present bid results to the Board of Selectmen for a decision on next steps.
The town has been actively pursuing building the pedestrian bridge since 2007. After applying for a number of State grants for the project, it received a Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant for the project in 2014. The town completed the permitting process, which included required design input from various Federal and State agencies resulting in a much more costly project than originally anticipated when the STEAP grant was awarded.
“Based on the expanded scope and cost of the bridge, a reassessment occurred as to whether we should continue to pursue the project,” Vanderslice said. “It was determined the project was worth pursuing because of the potential economic development impact for the area around the train station and Wilton Center.”
Indeed, Wilton officials emphasize the importance of the bridge as part of an overall plan to ensure the vitality and appeal of Wilton Town Center. It would provide a much shorter way for pedestrians to get across the Norwalk River from the train station into town, than the almost one-mile walk they have to take now up a hill to the busier Rte. 7 and across the Ridgefield Rd. overpass to Center Street.
Officials say the bridge will complement other plans to energize Wilton Center, including Schenck’s Island improvements and work along the Norwalk River where 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.
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, says Vanderslice. It’s part of the expectation that greater residential density will ensure the economic vitality of the Center.