STONINGTON — A group of citizens came before the Board of Finance Wednesday with a clear message: Sidewalks must be installed along a full stretch of Route 1 in Pawcatuck, beginning at “Birdland” — a series of streets with bird names located about 0.7 miles west of Stonington Human Services — all the way to downtown Pawcatuck, a distance of about 2.3 miles.
Laura Graham, of Pawcatuck, who started a petition two weeks ago asking for the completion of the sidewalks along Route 1, also known as South Broad Street, told the board she had collected more than 200 signatures.
She said she wanted to prevent another tragedy like the death of Raymond A. Lanphere, 77, of Sisk Drive, who was riding in his motorized wheelchair at 10 a.m. on May 25, 2016, when he was struck by a car driven by a Pawcatuck woman.
“There is a clear and present danger right in my own neighborhood — the health and well-being of our citizens who walk and drive because it’s not just the people who are living in these high-density units like Brookside and Stonington Arms who have less means to buy cars,” she said. “It’s everybody, from Stonington Borough to Mystic to Groton who are driving to Watch Hill, people coming back and forth from Westerly.”
Graham compared funding the sidewalks with the support of the Mystic River Boathouse Park, a $2.2 million bond approved by voters in September 2016.
“There’s always money when there’s a will to do something — we found money to buy that piece of land for the boathouse,” she said. “Let’s find the money. Let’s make it happen."
Two complexes offering affordable housing are in the works along Route 1 and both have sidewalks included in their construction plans. Spruce Ridge, a 43-unit project, is under construction at 88 S. Broad St., and Birchwood Farms, a 40-unit complex, slated for 126 S. Broad St.
Janis Mink, of Pawcatuck, said that when residents move into the future housing complexes, they will need sidewalks immediately.
“These people are not here yet themselves, they cannot advocate for sidewalks,” she said. “They will move in and there will be hundreds of them and they will need a place to walk.”
Chris Donahue, of Pawcatuck, said he had spoken with residents of Stonington Arms, a 76-unit low-income complex for seniors 62 and older, located at 133 S. Broad St.
“One the biggest concerns was sidewalks. They want to get out and want to be able to walk down to the other parts of town and I agree with them,” he said. “I think it’s essential for safety and for Pawcatuck as a whole.”
Don Maranell, a former first selectman, said that sidewalks in Pawcatuck have been in discussion for more than 20 years. He said that on the same day Lanphere was killed, former First Selectman George Crouse and Selectmen Rob Simmons and Michael Spellman voted that sidewalks were the No. 1 safety issue in the Town of Stonington.
In 2016, the town received a state grant of $500,000 for the sidewalks from the Main Street Investment Fund. But the Connecticut General Assembly reduced the fund from $8 million to $2 million, and the town never got the money.
Maranell said the project would cost more than $500,000 at this point.
The Board of Finance has approved $83,000 for an engineering study of the sidewalks for the 2019-20 budget.
The Department of Planning requested approximately $1.8 million for sidewalk infill projects on Route 1 in its 2019-20 Capital Improvement Projects submission.
Ayo Bryant, of Pawcatuck, who described herself as a walker, talked about access to the Pawcatuck Shopping Center at 37 S. Broad Street from the other side of the road. “I find it pretty difficult to get to the plaza that’s right up from our neighborhood. There’s no crosswalk between our neighborhood, which has about 300 households,” she said.
“We can’t get from our neighborhood across the street to the plaza where there’s the drug store, the pizza store, the liquor store. We can’t there without taking life and limb to try to cross Broad Street. There’s no crosswalk. You have to go on the street to walk down to the traffic light.”
Bryant also said it was too dangerous for her son to walk to Stonington High School.
“He cannot get there without a car. It’s sad that we can’t do these things — our access to the community offerings, recreation fields, down to Dairy Queen, restaurants, drug store is difficult,” she said. “I was behind Boathouse. This is just as important.”
Steve Burdick, of Pawcatuck, urged the board to get the sidewalks done.
“Shame on us if we don’t put the sidewalks in. No screwing around — next week, someone might be dead,” he said. “Put the sidewalks in.”
Board member Blunt White said that the town's state representative, Kate Rotella, has submitted House Bill 5256 to fund the sidewalks and urged citizens to follow the bill and testify in Hartford.
The Board of Finance will hold a public hearing on the 2019-20 budget on April 9 at 7:15 p.m. at Stonington High School.