Main Street consumes infrastructure aid; more money needed for Imperial work
Published 4:43 am, Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Work to upgrade downtown’s infrastructure has expended the initial $500,000 state-funded budget, with more money needed to complete the project’s original scope.
Most of the funding — initially earmarked for sidewalk construction and repairs downtown — has already been spent almost entirely on Main Street lighting and curbing, but First Selectman Jim Marpe said that completing a promised sidewalk along the length of Imperial Avenue remains a priority this spring.
“Sidewalks on Imperial Avenue will be among the top priority items in the town’s sidewalk improvement planning and installation projects for 2016,” Marpe said when recently questioned about the project.
The Imperial Avenue sidewalk now stretches “from Post Road down to Thomas Road and then it’s missing up to Gault (Avenue), and then it goes from just a little bit past Gault to Bridge Street,” he said, amounting to around 1,500 feet of sidewalk on the eastern side of the road that will cost an estimated $50,000 to complete.
“It’s our anticipation that that will be done either in the spring or summer,” he said.
A neighborhood advocacy group from the Representative Town Meeting’s District 9 can claim credit in prompting officials to tab completion of the project as a priority. Having raised close to $10,000 for electronic signs that show traffic speed on both Imperial and Bridge Street, which it presented to the Police Department last month, representatives of the group pressed Marpe in several private meetings to make sure the Imperial sidewalk is completed. They also wanted a crosswalk on Bridge Street, which was removed earlier in the year, to be re-installed.
At least two pedestrian accidents in the neighborhood during the past year prompted resident Nicole Dodge to start a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for the electronic speed signs. Those signs could help slow traffic, she indicated, which might alleviate accidents. One of the incidents involved a teenage girl struck by a car while jogging on Bridge Street as she tried to cross where the crosswalk had been removed by the state Department of Transportation about 500 feet west of Compo Road South.
“I live on Imperial Avenue,” Dodge said, and while she is pleased about the area’s “revitalization,” it has brought “significantly more congestion in traffic.”
“A lot of people go up and down Imperial Avenue, (so) basically we just wanted to have people start thinking about that and elevate the conversation with the town and public works,” she added.
In a letter, Dodge also asked that “shared roadway” signs be put up along Bridge and Imperial, and that a sidewalk be built on both sides of Bridge Street.
“As far as I’m concerned I’m buoyed by the fact that citizens were able to do something constructive for the town that will benefit everybody,” she said. “I feel like it’s on their radar and it’s a priority to have the streets safer for everyone.”
“The overall issue is an across-the-town interest in improving pedestrian safety,” said Jennifer Johnson, RTM District 9. “I’m yet to find anyone who doesn’t feel that’s an important issue … and it’s something that’s in the town plan and I know it’s something that the town has been interested in.”
“There are people who feel we should probably be doing more,” she added.
Improvements to downtown-area sidewalks have been discussed for some time, dating at least as far back as Westport’s 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development.
Toward that end, a grant was sought and secured for $497,595 from the state Department of Housing’s Main Street Investment Fund. The grant, which was approved by the Representative Town Meeting in January 2014, was to be spent on streetscape improvements on Main Street, including new light posts and curbing, the extended Imperial Avenue sidewalk and repairs to sidewalks on Main Street up to Canal Street, Myrtle Avenue, Post Road West up to Wright Street and along Veterans Green.
“The curbing has deteriorated to the point where we have severe trip hazards,” Edwards said two years ago about the sidewalks in need of repair, noting the grant was “not an open checkbook” and that expenditures were approved by the state in advance.
While only $135,000 was originally planned for Main Street’s streetscape, however, cost overruns consumed nearly all of the money before any of the extended sidewalk work could be done.
“Once the grant was received and the Downtown Steering Committee was formed, priorities were developed and the downtown effort was expanded,” Edwards said. “The sidewalk on Imperial Avenue was included in the original grant, but the decision was to concentrate the effort on the downtown area. This was a decision of the DSC.”
Melissa Kane, the co-chairwoman of the committee, said otherwise.
“The Main Street improvement project predated the creation of the DSC …” she said. “The already-ongoing improvements to Main Street were incorporated as a recommendation, however, we did not have authority over them.”
“The grant money never came up for DSC consideration,” she added. Dewey Loselle, town operations manager and co-chairman of the DSC, could not be reached for comment.
Edwards, however, said the DSC’s decisions pushed the costs higher. “We originally anticipated putting in … eight to 10 decorative lamp posts that would augment the existing CL&P overheads. Once the Downtown Steering Committee got involved, their emphasis was to get rid of (those older street lights) which then dramatically increased the cost of lighting.”
In the end, 24 new street lights were installed, he said, and that led to other issues regarding underground utilities that had to be relocated.
At one point, some of the new lamp posts also had to be removed and re-installed given issues with their design.
As for the crosswalks at Bridge Street, Edwards said the DOT took them out because it wanted the crossing up at the corner of Compo Road South, where a new crosswalk and light were installed.
“They felt that the two crosswalks that close together were not necessarily …,” he said. “They felt the one on Underhill wasn’t supported and they felt the other one was too close to South Compo.”
“Obviously they’ve been sensitized considerably to the problem in town with crosswalks that are not signaled and not maintained, and result in injuries,” Edwards said.