Officials scramble to avoid school bus delays as North Ave. bridge work lags
Updated 5:18 am, Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Repairs to the North Avenue Bridge, which led to its closure this summer, will not be completed by the start of the new school year, and plans are being made to handle the school bus traffic that crosses that bridge each day, according to town officials.
“North Avenue is the main thoroughfare road for a number of our schools which are located on North Avenue, with Coleytown Elementary and Coleytown Middle schools being north of the bridge and Staples and Bedford being south of the bridge,” according to the announcement from Dewey Loselle, the town’s operations director.
Rpairs to the bridge, spanning the Merritt Parkway, was scheduled to take place during the summer so as to pose the least disruption to schools and for the project to be complete before opening of the new academic year Aug. 27, Loselle said.
But the state Department of Transportation has run into unexpected issues with regard to the condition of the bridge, in particular, the extent of its deterioration, he added. Because of the historic nature of the Merritt Parkway bridges, repairs and upgrades require additional care in order to preserve the original look.
“Our town engineer and Public Works Department have been in close contact with DOT during the course of the project,” according to Loselle.
As it became apparent the project would not be done by school opening, the town began discussions with the DOT about alternative detour routes, he said, since town officials were told “the current detour routes are not viable alternatives for our buses.”
But without the bridge, significant delays were anticipated, and since so many buses travel across the span, “the delays would have a domino effect on bus service though all the school levels.”
The DOT, he said. “listened to the town’s concerns and have three shifts of repair crews working around the clock on the bridge work.”
While the details of the plan are not finalized, officials expect the DOT can safely have one lane of the bridge open at the start of school, Loselle said.
As part of the solution, one option would be to have police officers at each end of the bridge from 6:30 to 9 a.m. and from 2 to 4:30 p.m., facilitating traffic by alternating traffic flow, he added.
This way 20 to 30 vehicles at a time, including school buses, parents transporting children to and from school and commuters, will all be able to cross the bridge with minimal delays, he said.
This same alternating traffic control may also be directed by automated traffic signals to be installed. That is a detail still to be worked out by DOT, according to Loselle.
The bridge will still be closed at night to enable DOT crews to continue work on the final repairs more expeditiously so the project does not extend into winter.
“While the bridge will not be totally finished for school opening, having one lane open and operating will be a big improvement over the current situation and a much better alternative for all Westporters then having to rely on the detours,” Loselle said. “We are hoping that this will keep school bus delays to a minimum.”