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Monday, August 15, 2016

After a Year’s Delay, a Bridge Reopen Promise

By James Lomuscio

Standing today on the still unpaved deck of the North Avenue Bridge spanning the Merritt Parkway, Shalal Hussein vowed that the bridge would finally reopen 10 days from now, on Thursday, Aug. 25—more than a year past due.

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Workers do some final repairs to a section of the North Avenue Bridge over the Merritt Parkway today. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“If it doesn’t, I’ll be in serious trouble,” said Hussein, manager of the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) restoration project.

The 81-year-old, 211-foot-long bridge redo was supposed to be completed Aug. 17, 2015.

“I’ll have a lot of questions to answer,” Hussein said if he does not make the new deadline.

The long delay has left local officials and residents questioning, if not fuming. First Selectman Jim Marpe, for one, has not been pleased.

But to hear CDOT officials tell it, problems were unexpected. During last summer’s work, ultrasound uncovered a lot of hollows in the decorative, south side span of the bridge, Hussein said.

The bridge is one of the Merritt’s 69 historic bridges, each one different as 1930s planners of the Merritt, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, had different architects design each bridge.

To accommodate school buses, which are among the 1,200 vehicles per day that use the bridge, the best the CDOT could do could last fall and throughout the academic year was to open the bridge to alternating one-lane traffic with a stop light.

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The North Avenue Bridge project, although delayed a year, might come in under budget, according to a CDOT spokesman. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Once school ended this year, the bridge was completely shut down for the summer, raising even more ire among commuters.

“I know it was tough for the residents, but in all honesty, it was extremely tough for all of us with a lot of stress and a lot of problems,“Hussein said about the job requiring two crews of 10 working day and night.

“The two causes of the delays were that we had a lot of deterioration of the deck itself, and the other issue was that there were a lot of oversized, illegal trucks going under it and damaging the support rods of the temporary supports,” Hussein said.

“We’ve seen semis, tractor-trailers and RVs, and it got to the point where it would be extremely dangerous to leave it up.”

Kevin Nursick, CDOT spokesman, said that as a result of vehicular damage, the temporary support had to be removed, and a new support had to be designed, constructed and installed, as of which stretched the calendar.

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Shalal Hussein, the CDOT manager of the bridge restoration project, said if the bridge doesn’t reopen on Aug. 25, “I’ll be in serious trouble.”  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

The long delay, however, did have its silver lining, to hear Nursick tell it. Ironically, the project will end up costing $365,000 less.

“The original cost was $2.854 million, and we expect, as it stands now, for it to come in under budget despite the delay,” Nursick said. “We’re looking at $2,489,000. And it could come in even lower than that.

“We used less concrete on a particular portion than what we had anticipated,” he said. 

Nursick stressed that retrofit work “is oftentimes more difficult and prone to complications that building new infrastructure.”

He said that while the bridge officially reopens Aug. 25, the officially the project will not be considered closed until Sept. 15.

“Starting from scratch and building something brand new is oftentimes less complicated particularly in terms of the potential for unforeseen circumstances,” he said.

WestportNow.com Image
The North Avenue Bridge will be open to traffic on Aug. 25, according to CDOT officials, with the project completed by Sept. 15 (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Hussein said that the meticulous nature of historic restoration work also adds time.

For example, he said Mark McMillan, the CDOT’s architectural historian specializing in National Register properties, had to sign off on every detail, including the type of preservative paint used on the sides of the south facing span, as well as the restoration of the iron grill work between the concrete stanchions.

Nursick compared a bridge restoration to one of a classic car, saying it would take a lot less time to go out and purchase a new one.

“I would ask for the public’s understanding because these are very, very complicated projects,” he said.

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Posted 08/15/16 at 02:50 PM  Permalink



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