The Wilton Board of Selectmen gave its blessing to a proposal to build a recreational pathway or sidewalk on a 3/4-mile stretch of Wolfpit Road in the vicinity Oak Ledge Lane — however neighbors petitioning for the project were warned to brace themselves for an uphill battle with the state in getting it approved.
David Cote of 10 Oak Ledge Lane, who gave the board a brief overview the proposed project, said the 3/4 mile long pathway would be used by walkers, runners, cyclists and dog walkers and would connect Miller Driscoll School, as well as the Greenbriar Lane, Wolfpit Lane, Oak Ledge Lane and Roxbury Lane neighborhoods to the downtown. The recreational pathway, he said, would be made of either wood chips or gravel, but it could also be concrete sidewalk, or a mix of any of those materials.
Cote acknowledged that the road and the right of ways underneath are owned by the state and maintained by the Connecticut Department of Transportation, "but we need the backing of the town before we can move forward to the state," he said.
Cote said his group decided not to call it a sidewalk project because "the word 'sidewalk' is a little overwhelming in terms of financial commitment and permanence... whereas a pathway goes along with everything else we're doing in town, in terms of connecting the train station and the [proposed] Norwalk River Valley Trail."
Cote said pedestrian and cyclist safety is one of the primary factors driving the project. He said many walkers, runners, cyclists and dog walkers use Wolfpit Road every day — and with the current high volume of traffic, "it's not a matter of if someone is going to be hit it is a matter of when."
"In fact there's a couple of residents on our road who have been hit," he said, adding that a woman on his street was hit by a vehicle while jogging, in a recent hit and run type accident.
"Knocked her in the woods and broke her elbow," he said, adding that before state widened road about ten years ago "there used to be a pedestrian friendly shoulder."
Maryann Higgins, who lives corner of Oak Ledge and Wolfpit, said when the state DOT put in new curbing and guard rails along sections of Wolfpit Road a few years ago, it in essence "took away the shoulder," forcing pedestrians and cyclists out onto the roadway with the vehicles.
Cote showed the board members photos demonstrating the poor visibility heading west on Wolfpit in the afternoon due to the setting sun.
He also showed the board a photo of the "crosswalk to nowhere" at Horseshoe Road, where a stretch of sidewalk coming from Route 33 currently ends, about 3/4 of a mile from Miller Driscoll School.
Cote said he hoped that at the very least a flat shoulder could be left behind that could be used as a trail after a sewer project along Wolfpit is completed early next year.
First Selectman William Brennan said while he was supportive of the project, it would ultimately be up to the state to approve it, since Wolfpit is a state-owned road and the sewer project that it currently underway there is a state project.
He said neighbors would first have to gain the support of area state legislators for the project, and then hope that it would be approved by the General Assembly in Hartford.
Brennan said one possible obstacle to getting approval is the fact that there are rights of way under the road and possibly where the sidewalk would be going in, and "none of these utilities want anything over their [lines] — they want to be able to maintain it without having to take up a sidewalk."
Brennan also warned Cote that should the group push for a concrete sidewalk, as opposed to a path, the cost of the project will be considerably greater. He said the town recently put in a nearly-three-mile stretch of sidewalk on Route 7, from Olmstead Hill Road to Wolfpit Road.
"That sidewalk at the time cost just shy of $1 million," Brennan said. "So you can figure with a little escalation the cost your sidewalk is going to be about $350,000 to $400,000."
At the same time, Brennan emphasized that the board and the town are not "anti-sidewalk."
"I want to make it clear to everyone that the town has been supportive of the Norwalk River Valley Trail," Brennan said, referring to the ambitious plan to build a bike trail from Norwalk through Wilton to Danbury. "... second we have been improving the sidewalks in Wilton Center now for the past three or four years..."
Brennan said the concept of a building pathway, as opposed to a sidewalk, "is interesting..." He said if the group could convince the state to have the contractor doing the sewer work to flatten out the sections where the lines are installed, it could create a "swath on the side of the road where people can walk and ride bikes."
During the meeting Director of Public Works Thomas Thurkettle warned that there might be sections of the pathway that would require an easement from an adjacent private property owner.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle, who was in attendance at Monday's meeting, said as long as the project "doesn't cost the state any money, because there is none..." it might have a chance at getting approved.
"When you deal with the state I'd like to make one suggestion," Brennan told Cote. "Brace yourself. We'll be as supportive as we can."
Devin Comiskey, who lives at 122 Wolfpit Road, at the top of the large hill, said he fully supported the project and was "more than willing to give up a few feet of my front lawn... to get this project moving."