A greenway corridor once reserved for proposed construction of a wide roadway to provide speedier flow of motorized traffic between northern and southern portions of Fairfield County is a step closer to its new intended purpose as a leisurely recreational linear park for hikers, bicyclists and even equestrians.
The Norwalk River Valley Trail Steering Committee unveiled the results of a formal routing study this month for the proposed 38-mile multi-purpose trail that will go from Norwalk to Danbury following, in part, the property reserved for the construction of the proposed Super 7 roadway that never came to be. The route study, conducted by Alta Planning + Design, a nationally prominent planning, design and engineering firm, took 18 months to complete and paves the way for the next phase of the ambitious project, which includes coming up with the funds for trail construction.
David Park of Norwalk, a member of the 20-member steering committee which has representatives from each of the involved communities, said the trail will have greater significance beyond recreational purpose. He said it will connect the communities' assets such as rail stations, shopping centers and tourist attractions. Having the routing study in hand is a big step forward and allows the project to move forward from concept to reality, he said.
For Jim Carter of Norwalk, also a member of the steering committee, the study is proof that the project is "do-able" and will happen unlike some grand plans that may sound feasible but never come to fruition.
"We've moved from `hey, wouldn't it be neat to do this?' to `this is feasible and here's how it would look,'" said Pat Sesto, chair of the steering committee who is employed by the town of Wilton.
"Having this routing study is like having a master plan," Park said. "With the plan in place we are now in a better position to seek funding through the municipalities and private and corporate grants," he said. Such a plan must exist before any individual, corporation or government agency would provide funding, he said.
Several sub-committees focus on all the aspects of getting the trail constructed including fundraising. The effort also included the formation of a 501c3 non-profit organization to take tax deductible contributions called "Friends of the NRVT."
The study contains maps, basic trail characteristics, the priorities and anticipated construction challenges. "Every section of the trail will have challenges," Park said.
In some northern communities there may be issues related to private property and rights of way. In Norwalk, Park foresees design issues involving cross roads. "There is a challenge getting around the Merritt Parkway and other roads. We have to do it in a safe manner," he said.
Some issues that other communities might face related to land use should not be a problem for Norwalk, Carter said. "We don't have any of those impediments created by usually troublesome right of ways or private property," he said. The land for the proposed trail through Norwalk is already in public hands. It is either owned or leased by utilities, controlled by the city as parks or open space or owned by the state.
Additionally, Carter said, some of the prep work has already been done, allowing the steering committee to dovetail on that work, which saves money. As one example, he mentioned a CL&P maintenance road to service its power lines, which will comprise part of the trail.
"In this world of limited and constrained budgets piggybacking on other projects, like CL&P's access roads (saves funding)," Carter said.
The proposed 38-mile trail, including spurs and loops, is a multi-purpose trail for non-motorized uses and will go from Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk to Danbury passing through Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding. The study solicited comments from community members in each of the five towns. Possible route options and key characteristics of the trail were discussed in two rounds of public work sessions and are reflected in the final recommendation.
The routing study includes pull-out sections for each of the five municipalities along the route so that each one can seek funding for and work on their portions separately. Norwalk and Wilton already have short portions of their trails completed.
The City of Norwalk, through the Department of Public Works, took the lead on the NRVT several years ago, Park said. "We have an existing section of trail that goes from the Maritime Aquarium north through Mathews Park and up to Union Park, and we have a short section of trail between New Canaan Avenue at the electric substation up to Broad Street on CL&P property," Park said. The existing sections of trail in Norwalk are over one mile long, he said.
The Norwalk Department of Public Works is working on a design to connect those two sections of the NRVT. The design work is being done in house but the city will be seeking a $2 million grant for the construction phase, he said.
The characteristics of the trail will be different in various parts of the route. Sesto said some sections of the trail would be wide, perhaps eight to 12 feet wide. Some areas will comprise a paved, hard surface while others will have a soft, crushed stone surface.
Park said Norwalk's portion will consist largely of asphalt. Carter said the seven-mile section from the Maritime Aquarium to Wilton High School is essentially flat. Portions north of that may have rougher terrain.
"It'll be a little bit harder (for those communities) but I think it will happen. It's just more of a challenge," he said. It may also take more time, more effort and more money, he said.
"We know we've got hurdles. We know there are details out there that will adjust our vision," Sesto said. Overall though, "It's a great vision but it's not set in stone."
The study was made possible by an $180,000 grant from the National Recreational Trails Program administered by the Connecticut DEEP. More than 2,500 volunteer hours supported the study and no Norwalk tax dollars were involved. In addition to Alta Planning + Design, the consultant team also included Fitzgerald & Halliday, and Stantec. The disciplines of all the firms complemented each other in order to complete the routing study, Park said.
With the routing study completed, Park said the focus will now be on acquiring the necessary funding to hire an engineer to create the construction drawings and documents and putting the project out to bid.
For information, visit www.nrvt-trail.com.