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A Walk Bridge in Norwalk–Dispelling the rumors and finding the truth about what’s next

One of the most buzzed-about topics in Norwalk right now is the Walk Bridge project saga. The Walk Bridge—or the Norwalk River Railroad Bridge—is the swing bridge, built in 1896, that traverses the Norwalk River providing access for nearly 200 Amtrak and Metro-North trains per day—about 125,000 riders.

But there’s a problem. The function of the 123-year-old Walk Bridge—its shortened moniker from the second syllable in Norwalk—is to act as the rail line and then swing open, when needed, to allow boats to pass through. But because of its age, it gets stuck open, causing delays on the railroad. Thus a need to fix it.

So the state made plans for a replacement bridge, and money has been allocated for the work. To replace the bridge means to relocate it: you have to build the new one somewhere else, so that the current one can operate while a new one is constructed.

The state’s plans call for replacing the existing swing-span bridge with a 240-foot span, vertical-lift bridge. The lift bridge’s towers are designed to rise 150 feet above the level of the railroad tracks (shown above).

The cost for replacement of the bridge itself is estimated at slightly more than $500 million, part of a larger project, comprised of six infrastructure improvement projects including the Danbury Branch Dockyard Projects, the East Avenue Bridge Replacement and Roadway Improvements, and the Fort Point Street Bridge Replacement—totaling $1.2 billion.

A bigger issue for the SoNo community is how it will impact the neighboring traffic, roads, and buildings, most notably the Maritime Aquarium—the city’s largest tourist destinations and indeed one of the most robust in the state.

While we don’t know for sure how car commuters will be affected, two of SoNo’s busiest roads, Water Street and Washington Street, will undoubtedly see traffic backup as well as possible detour routes for the duration of the project.

Time will tell. For now, be sure to enjoy the IMAX one last time, because as part of the reconstruction project, the Maritime Aquarium’s IMAX Theater will be removed.

Fortunatley, there is funding from the CT DOT for a replacement theater, but it will be smaller than the current 310-seat IMAX. According to a spokesman for the Aquarium, the new theater will be a multipurpose, 4D theater “capable of 2D and 3D digital projection and will also serve as a stage for lectures and guest presentations.”

The harbor-seals exhibit, a visitor favorite, has already been affected by the project. On November 11, the seals moved to the former “Go Fish!” exhibit, and construction will begin on a new 150,000-gallon, two-story enclosed habitat inside Newman’s Own Hall. The Aquarium held a ceremonial groundbreaking on November 18.

Says Aquarium COO Dave Truedson: “We thank the City of Norwalk and the Connecticut Department of Transportation for being responsive to the impact that the bridge project will have on the Aquarium. Minimizing the significant economic damages that will occur due to the project is critical if the Aquarium is to remain one of the state’s largest tourist attractions and an economic driver for the city and state.”

While many members of the community remain polarized on the issue, the design plans are nearly complete and construction is set to begin possibly in 2020, and it will take four to five years to complete—it will, no doubt, be aesthetically superior and will provide new walk and bike lanes and a wider opening for boaters.

Says a project spokesman: “Railroad service will be maintained and operated during Walk Bridge construction, except for two, full weekend outages to accommodate the float-in of the bridge spans.”

 

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