Sidewalk Dedication Officially Closes Big Part of ‘The Loop’
If you had a notion to walk, jog, or even bike from the new Starbucks just off Exit 10 on Church Hill Road, up to the flagpole, down Main Street to Walgreens, and over to Reed School or Fairfield Hills, you can now traverse that entire stretch on a recently completed network of interconnected sidewalks.
And in the coming years, that sidewalk network will continue down Wasserman Way to Berkshire Road, past the high school down Route 34, to Sandy Hook Village center, and up Church Hill Road — back to and across the I-84 bridge at Exit 10.
Making Newtown a more “walkable” community has been a goal of a growing number of residents and local officials, particularly Deputy Director of Planning Rob Sibley, who hosted a small ribbon cutting ceremony October 6 to commemorate the latest section of sidewalk being completed between South Main Street and Trades Lane.
“What we’re celebrating today is not actually a beginning or an end of any single project,” Sibley told the group, which included First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, Borough Warden Jay Maher, Christal Preszler from the Economic & Community Development Office, a project manager from Benesch, a state DOT engineer, and representatives from Newtown Parks & Recreation, which assists is maintaining segments of the sidewalks.
“This has been ongoing for years and is an extension of what many other people have done,” Sibley said, calling local sidewalks “gateways to our communities, much more than our roads because when people are walking they have time to see what’s around them.”
Looking back on sidewalk development that began more than three decades ago, Sibley noted that smartly, those first Main Street and borough sidewalks were included ten years later into the Master Plan of Conservation and Development.
Connecting The Community
With a goal of eventually connecting the concentrated populations around the center of town with most of the community’s schools and more recently Fairfield Hills, Sibley said the recent ribbon cutting was also a tribute to each person who has played a role in supporting, installing, and maintaining local sidewalks.
“I appreciate the state’s involvement, the designer’s involvement, the town support and involvement, and local department heads for helping sustain the project, even during challenging situations,” he said. Sibley also recognized the neighboring community of Bridgewater, which in 2015, opted out of a federal grant which caused it to revert to the second ranked project, which was the most recently installed section of sidewalks.
Newtown was able to act quickly to secure the federal grant because leaders had previously earmarked sidewalk funding in the Capital Improvement Plan, Sibley explained. By 2016, the design process began, and in 2018, approvals were secured for the installations which were completed between early 20199 and earlier this year.
“This marks a completed [section] of the project that people have been using and enjoying for the better part of a year,” the land use official observed of the latest section, which came in at a cost under $1.2 million.
Sibley also pointed out the project includes several state-of-the-art crosswalk stanchions that incorporate both visual and sound technology to optimally serve individuals with sight and/or hearing impairments and mobility challenges.
Warden Maher said a few years ago, he would have never thought he would see a sidewalk stretching between South Main Street and Fairfield Hills.
“We’ve struggled with how that could be done for over 25 years,” he noted. “The fact that it is now a reality is amazing. It’s a beautiful project, really well done, and completed in a period of under eight years”
Getting It Done
Rosenthal thanked Sibley for being the latest official to take the lead on sidewalk development, and getting it done.
“It is terrific, connecting the vibrancy of Fairfield Hills with other parts of town,” the first selectman said. “Now when visitors come and see what a walkable town we have now, and when people are thinking about buying homes, this project makes Newtown that much more inviting.”
Rosenthal responded to “naysayers” who criticized the sidewalk proposal saying nobody would use it.
“But truth be told, I see people walking on South Main and Wasserman Way every day between the Borough and Fairfield Hills,” he added.
Preszler pointed out the completion of the sidewalk section coincided with the completion of another grant supported project involving the streetscape and gateway section leading into Fairfield Hills.
“We also got to do the pretty things like trees and flowers for the gateway to the campus,” she said. “It’s really nice to see how everything connects.”
Following the remarks, attendees headed to a staging area in front of Reed School and cut a red ribbon commemorating the official completion of this latest segment of the Newtown sidewalk loop.