Town, state agree to stopgap for lagging North Avenue bridge work
Updated 6:25 am, Wednesday, August 19, 2015
With the start of a new academic year looming, the town and state Department of Transportation have agreed on a plan to reopen the North Avenue bridge — which carries heavy school bus traffic to several schools — with a single, alternating lane of traffic as a stopgap to avoid detour-fueled delays.
First Selectman Jim Marpe, in a Tuesday statement, said during meetings with DOT officials on the problem, “it became apparent that unforeseen problems with the bridge required a repair schedule which was longer than originally anticipated.”
Officials had expected that reconstruction of the span over the Merritt would be completed by mid-August, before the new school year starts Aug. 27. Now, however, work is not projected to be finished until the end of October.
Marpe said that one of the early options considered by the DOT would have closed the bridge completely during September, but town officials said having the bridge unavailable for the opening of schools Aug. 27 would have “extremely negative ramifications.”
The town, Marpe said, stressed that an alternative “half-open” bridge solution, with one alternating lane, would be the preferable and the least disruptive plan.
As a result, Marpe said, DOT project managers agreed to adopt the alternating-lane approach and reworked their plans.
In an Aug. 13 letter to state DOT Commissioner James Redeker, Marpe said local officials want the single-lane, alternating approach to “allow bus drivers the opportunity to practice their routes and potentially minimize problems on the first day of classes.”
Redeker, responding to that letter, said the DOT is committed to establishing the alternating one-way traffic on the bridge before the first day of school and will seek to meet the town’s requested goal of Aug. 24, according to Marpe.
“If the bridge remained completely inaccessible, the bus routes to the four schools serviced in part by the North Avenue bridge and, in fact, the transportation scheduling system-wide, would have been in jeopardy when schools opened on Aug. 27,” Marpe said.
Marpe also said that he and Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon ask that parents use the school bus system for their children’s transport, rather than driving them to schools — at least during the first few weeks of school. “This will help reduce the traffic volume and allow everyone to traverse this area of town with minimum delays,” he said in his statement.
Redeker indicated the bridge contractor will be working nights and weekends to comply with the revised work schedule. The span will be completely closed during those times.
The alternating one-way traffic would be in effect for approximately eight weeks, Marpe said.
Redeker said the DOT plans to install signal lights to control the one-way alternating traffic operation during mid-day, non-peak hours. Police will assume traffic-control operations during the busiest morning and afternoon time periods, Marpe said.
Meanwhile, Marpe said, at a meeting with the DOT on Monday, the state staff said it is having difficulty locating an appropriate and available alternating signal system in its inventory.
The equipment is needed to regulate traffic on the bridge during mid-day. If the signal system does not become available, the town will seek reimbursement from the state to hire “flagmen” to perform that task, Marpe said.