August 28, 2018 — Weston has been awarded $397,860 in state funds from the Community Connectivity Program to build a network of sidewalks in the town's center.
Under the preliminary design prepared for the grant application, existing sidewalks at the schools will be expanded throughout the entire campus, including the Senior Center, sports fields, and district administrative offices.
Sidewalks will also be built along portions of Weston Road, School Road, and Norfield Road to interconnect the school campus with the municipal center, which includes Town Hall, the Library, Weston's police, fire, and EMS departments, the Food Pantry, and the Onion Barn. They will also wrap around the commercial center and extend to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.
In all, the construction provides 3,400 linear feet of five foot wide concrete sidewalk, wheelchair ramps, and 2,050 linear feet of six foot wide stone dust trail.
The Town applied for the grant in July of 2017. Previous efforts had been unsuccessful. According to First Selectman Chris Spaulding, some were rejected because Weston is "not walkable enough."
Dr. Spaulding expressed a measure of surprise at the award, as state aid to Weston has dwindled in recent years. Nevertheless, he said he is "thrilled this money is coming through," and lauded the "extraordinary efforts" of Town staff to make it happen.
Another contributing factor may be that the Community Connectivity Program appears to have been tailor-made for Weston's needs. It is part of Governor Malloy's Let'sGoCT! Transportation initiative, which is designed to improve accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians in community centers, encourage commuting without motor vehicles, and increase social interaction.
The First Selectman described this project as "phase one" of what he hopes will be an expanded effort in the future, possibly to include more of Norfield Road and parts of Lords Highway. "People already walk in these areas," he said, "and sometimes put themselves and drivers at risk. We need to allow safe passage for pedestrians, especially kids and seniors."
Dr. Spaulding also expressed a desire to "re-invigorate" the Town's Bicycle and Pedestrians Committee, and said he is "enthusiastically recruiting new members."
The state's grant covers all of the project's construction and materials costs, assuming they do not exceed the amount of the award. The Town must pay for a schematic design and engineering documents. If it turns out that construction costs are lower than the amount awarded, the grant will be reduced accordingly.
The project must now go out to bid, and the Board of Finance meets next week to vote on accepting the grant. The Board must also make funding decisions for design costs.
The ultimate hope, as expressed in the grant application, is that making Weston more "walkable" will have a positive effect on the town's growth and desirability. It could encourage an expansion of Weston Center, which would enhance the tax base and provide additional amenities. It could also increase the possibility of having a town green across from the commercial center, which could be used for concerts, festivals, casual recreation, and socializing.