Stamford Awarded $17M as State Wins $21.8M to Reconnect Communities Split by Legacy Infrastructure

(CT Examiner)


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STAMFORD – Connecticut has received $21.8 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation as part of an effort to boost communities that fail to thrive because they are cut off by highways, rail lines and other infrastructure.

Most of the federal money to Connecticut, $17 million, has been awarded to Stamford, where it will be used to connect the struggling West Side to the prosperous downtown and growing South End. The aim is to ease travel from the West Side to downtown jobs, bus transit, shopping, services, and recreation.

The city will use the construction grant to expand the Mill River Greenway from Tresser Boulevard to the Metro-North Commuter Railroad tracks, and to create a safer trip for pedestrians crossing Tresser Boulevard, Greenwich Avenue, and Richmond Hill Avenue on their way to the train station and South End. 

The next-highest of the six grant awards went to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which received $2 million to begin engineering and environmental review for the Greater Hartford Mobility Study. The plan is to correct the city divide created by Interstate 91, and build connections between downtown Hartford and surrounding neighborhoods, install a pedestrian boulevard along the Connecticut River, and construct a bridge to East Hartford.

The third-highest award, $1 million, went to the Western Connecticut Council of Governments to support a regional transit study that will look at the reasons for low ridership on public transit and increasing road traffic. Inadequate transportation service has been identified as a barrier to economic development and travel to outlying towns such as New Milford and Newtown, and connections to city hubs such as Bridgeport and Waterbury. 

The Borough of Naugatuck got $652,800 for planning its Eastside-Westside Community and Rail Mitigation Project. Aims include connecting Metro-North Commuter Railroad to downtown Naugatuck, and improving access to the Naugatuck River Greenway Trail and Route 8. A pedestrian bridge is planned for the Naugatuck River. 

The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency received $600,000 for planning a community connection project in the Martin Luther King Jr. Corridor in South Norwalk. The goal is to better connect the corridor to South Norwalk, Wall Street, and the rest of the city. The area is challenged by busy junctions that include Interstate-95 and Route 7, and the plan is to use art, lighting and landscaping to ease traffic and make pedestrians safer. 

The Connecticut Metropolitan Council of Governments got $600,000 for its Gateway to the East End Study in Bridgeport. Officials are seeking ways to connect the East End, which is split in two by a portion of Interstate-95 and cut off from downtown and Bridgeport Harbor. 

The grants come from the U.S. DOT’s Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods program, which in fiscal 2023 awarded $3.3 billion to 132 communities nationwide. 

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the grant recipients Wednesday. The grants were established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Biden signed in 2021.

The grants are to be used to plan or build transportation projects that improve access to jobs, education, health care,  food, and recreation; foster economic development in disadvantaged communities; and reconnect neighborhoods by removing barriers created by roads, highways and other transportation structures.

The five-year Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods program began in fiscal 2022, when $185 million was awarded to 45 U.S. communities, though none in Connecticut.

Federal DOT officials have characterized it as “the first-ever federal program dedicated to reconnecting communities that were previously cut off from economic opportunities by transportation infrastructure.”

Requests for grant money have “greatly outpaced the level of available funding,” the U.S. DOT said in a statement.

Five grant requests from Connecticut, in fact, were not granted, according to the U.S. DOT website:

  • The City of New Britain asked for $12.5 million for construction of a neighborhood access and equity project.

  • Bridgeport sought $22 million for construction of a Congress Street bridge project.

  • The Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments requested $3.2 million to plan a project that would connect neighborhoods to stimulate economic revitalization.

  • The City of Bridgeport requested $1 million to plan a neighborhood access and equality project.

  • The Town of Winchester sought $320,000 to plan a similar project.

To qualify for a planning grant, communities had to show how the anticipated project would improve traffic patterns, transportation networks, safety, health, mobility, development opportunities, and public engagement, and employ alternative road designs.

Construction grants, such as the $17 million that went to Stamford, were awarded to communities that completed studies and planning needed to launch a project.

According to a summary of Stamford’s application, officials sought to ease movement across Interstate-95, the railroad tracks, South State Street, and Mill River. 

The project would allow residents to safely cross such barriers “and improve access to employment centers, education, transit, parks, and other community destinations,” Stamford officials wrote in the application. Barriers include a 3,000-foot gap in the greenway through Mill River Park, they wrote.

The project will expand the Mill River Greenway between Tresser Boulevard and Metro-North rail tracks, building a 12-foot-wide path with lighting. It will enhance pedestrian safety by upgrading sidewalks, raising crosswalks, building bump-outs to slow traffic, and improving traffic signals and signs, they wrote.

Stamford Director of Operations Matt Quinones said Wednesday that the grant application was processed through the city’s Transportation, Traffic & Parking Department, and submitted a few months ago.

“Thanks to this award, we will launch a comprehensive design and construction process within the West Side of Stamford to enhance green space, improve connectivity, and invest in pedestrian safety improvements,” Quinones said. “We’re grateful for being the recipient of a 100 percent federally funded grant, and look forward to engaging the West Side community” in deciding details of the plan.

Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.