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It's All Uphill For Last Leg Of Hartford's Riverwalk

JOSH KOVNER

August 20, 2009

HARTFORD - A small, unfinished stretch of the heavily used Riverwalk is proving a tricky, costly challenge to the stewards of Riverfront Recapture.

Completing this last knotty section would cost an estimated $27 million in additional money, more than a third of the $62 million already spent to build the 4-mile string of parks, paved walkways, and plazas along the east and west banks of the Connecticut River.

And most of the cost is linked to one 500-foot piece off Van Dyke Avenue, near the Colt complex, north of Charter Oak Landing.

It is a complicated 500 feet, said Marc Nicol, longtime director of park development for Riverfront Recapture. The nonprofit agency manages the park system, which drew an estimated 750,000 people last year, including concerts, festivals, events at the boathouse, and boat races.

Dubbed Riverwalk South, the final section of path would cross railroad tracks and would involve dismantling and rebuilding a section of the concrete dike wall, notching into the earthen dike, installing a large flood gate, creating an entryway in a graffiti-covered area under I-91, and getting Northeast Utilities to move its transformer-storage site.

A steam pump station sits right behind the concrete dike, but planners can work around that.

The Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Transportation and Texas-based Rail America are among the parties that would have to sign off on the project. Riverfront Recapture has applied for about $72,000 in federal funds from the Capitol Region Council of Governments to complete environmental testing at the site. Money for the actual work would have to come later, from a combination of public and private sources.

"It's a very congested spot and you're working in the city's flood-control area," said Nicol, who has seen the riverfront evolve over 25 years from a forgotten, debris-strewn strip to an extension of Hartford's downtown.

"But we already have legislative and DOT approvals for the at-grade railroad crossing and we're negotiating with Northeast Utilities about moving the transformers. We'll get this," Nicol said. "It's just going to take some persistence."

The rail crossing would include crossing gates and fencing. Two trains per day go by, traveling slowly, Nicol said. The entrance under the highway would feature a history wall describing Hartford's once-thriving shipbuilding industry and the exploits of explorer Adriaen Block and the Colt family.

The possibility that the Colt complex will gain national-park status has added momentum to the project.

Joseph Marfuggi, CEO of Riverfront Recapture, said downtown developers quickly recognized the riverfront park as an amenity, and he expects a similar sentiment to take hold in the neighborhoods south of downtown if the restoration of Coltsville continues and Riverwalk South is completed.

"We feel that with a new opening to the river near Coltsville, developers are going to look for opportunities in the Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhood," Marfuggi said.

The unfinished stretch is passable now, with a gravel path and a temporary paved road, and joggers love the area. But Marfuggi and Nicol won't consider the park system a complete circuit until the last section matches the rest of the park, with a wide walkway, lawn areas, scenic overlooks, benches and some public art.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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