Michael Rea compared the state Department of Transportation's plan to rehabilitate the 75-year-old deteriorating North Avenue bridge over the Merritt Parkway next year to going to the dentist.

"This is like having a tooth pulled. You just want to get it done as fast as possible," Rea, a Board of Finance member, said Wednesday evening during a DOT informational meeting in the Town Hall auditorium.

Rea was concerned about the bridge closure's impact on traffic, as was First Selectman Jim Marpe. The bridge is scheduled to be closed in the summer of 2015 and Marpe said a culvert project by the intersection of Clinton Avenue and Compo Road North would take place at the same time. He asked the DOT to look into whether the two projects' timing could be separated to reduce pressure at the intersection of Easton and Weston roads.

"I think it will go a long way toward alleviating what will already be a bad traffic situation and not making it worse," Marpe said.

While the bridge is closed, traffic is scheduled to be detoured onto Easton Road, Weston Road and Cross Highway, and the project's estimated $2.6 million budget would include funds for traffic control, said William R. Stark, a consultant with Close, Jensen and Miller, P.C., in Wethersfield.

Stark said closing the bridge should last only two months and is timed to have no impact on school buses that travel to Staples High School on North Avenue.

Andrew M. Lessard, a project consultant with Stantec in Hamden, said a "single-stage" construction project took less time and was less complicated and less costly.

"We're looking to do the work in the shortest time possible," said Mary Baker, a DOT project engineer.

Marpe thanked the DOT and consultants for planning to minimize the length of time the bridge would be closed, and asked them to make sure enough contingency is in the project's budget to ensure the timeframe is maintained.

Stark said the contract would include incentives for the winning bidder to get the project done on schedule and disincentives if it is not. "If they feel they need to work seven days [a week] to get the road back open, that would be an option for the contractor," he said.

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, asked if the DOT could replace a chain-link fence along the east side of the bridge with "something aesthetically more compatible." Stark said that would be done. "We're certainly not putting back a chain-link fence. When we went to the Merritt Parkway Advisory Committee they asked us to look at something less stark and less industrial looking." "We are going to look at some options," Stark added. "We are going to make it look like it was part of the original design as much as possible ... It will be an architecturally pleasing fence." The single-span bridge built in 1939, is about 64 feet long and 26 feet wide from curb to curb. It needs work because its concrete is deteriorating, Stark said. The west side of the bridge will be replaced because the concrete was "pretty severely deteriorated," he said.

"This bridge has been in this condition for quite some time," Stark said. "We're anxious to get this job under way." Lessard said the replacement project likely would be bid in December and also involves repairs to the bridge's underside, vertical walls, deck and parapets, as well as construction of new end blocks. He said work on the west side requires a support structure for workers that would provide "minimal clearance" for motorists and require lane closures on the Merritt Parkway in off-peak hours. Stark said the clearance would be 11 feet, 1 inch high.

In addition to the Merritt Parkway Advisory Committee, input also was solicited from the state's Historic Preservation Office because the of the span's historic status, Stark said. He said the bridge will look the same after the project as it does today.

"Everything we're going to be doing out there will be done to replicate what's out there now," Lessard said. He said new concrete would be "color matched" with existing concrete and the contractor would be able to consult plans from when the bridge was originally built.

Stark said no environmental permits are needed and rights-of-way are wide enough so private property won't be affected. But he said the bridge carries water distribution and gas lines and the DOT hopes to maintain those lines during the bridge repairs.

"We still have coordination with utilities to see if they can be maintained during construction or capped and cut off," Lessard said.

The sidewalk on the bridge would remain after construction and a fence will be added on the west side that is the same as the fence that replaces the chain-link fence on the east side, Lessard said.

The project also calls for parts of North Avenue leading up to the bridge to be reconstructed. Lessard said the total length of road reconstruction, including the bridge, will be 211 feet.

Baker said the bridge work would be financed entirely by state money. "This project does not require any town funds," she said. She said the State Bond Commission has been "very proactive" in financing infrastructure projects in the state.

Marpe thanked Baker and the DOT consultants for holding the informational meeting well ahead of the anticipated construction work. "Thank you for your efforts in restoring one of these magnificent bridges on the Merritt Parkway," Marpe said. "Certainly this bridge makes Westport special." Rea said he was "really pleased" the DOT was rehabilitating the bridge. "The infrastructure is really important and it's a beautiful bridge,"