Road Crews Toil As Fairfield County Bridges Age

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Three people died and three others seriously injured when 100-foot span of Interstate-95 collapsed in the early morning of June 28, 1983. The bridge collapsed into the Mianus River in Greenwich.
Three people died and three others seriously injured when 100-foot span of Interstate-95 collapsed in the early morning of June 28, 1983. The bridge collapsed into the Mianus River in Greenwich. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Time Life Pictures Photo Gallery: Hank Morgan/Time Life Pictures
Construction worker putting the finishing touches on new Mill River Bridge on Mill Plain Road in Fairfield. The $2.4 million bridge replaces two 1929 bridges that could not handle the increased traffic flow and weight.
Construction worker putting the finishing touches on new Mill River Bridge on Mill Plain Road in Fairfield. The $2.4 million bridge replaces two 1929 bridges that could not handle the increased traffic flow and weight. Photo Credit: Richard Weizel
Worker recently applying erosion control matting under new Mill River bridge in Fairfield. The $2.4 million span replaced to aging bridges unable to handle the traffic flow and weight of the vehicles any longer.
Worker recently applying erosion control matting under new Mill River bridge in Fairfield. The $2.4 million span replaced to aging bridges unable to handle the traffic flow and weight of the vehicles any longer. Photo Credit: Richard Weizel

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Most of Connecticut's bridges are at least 50 years old – some even built as far back as the late 19th and early 20th centuries - and will need major upgrades or replacements over the next decade or two, said officials in the state's Department of Transportation.

Of the more than 5,000 bridges and elevated transportation spans across Connecticut, thousands are in Fairfield County and the cost to replace and repair them over the next 20 years will be in the billions, state officials said.

"In New England states like Connecticut we have older infrastructure than in other regions and we have to be extremely vigilant in keeping up with inspections, part-replacements and ultimately, entire decks and spans must be replaced," said Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation.

There are already major projects underway in Fairfield County to replace bridges on and around I-95, the Merritt Parkway and local roads. Several of these will be completed next summer. 

Among those are a $166.5 million project along the Merritt Parkway that includes replacing and upgrading historic bridges above the parkway and over the Mill River in the Fairfield area; and smaller projects, like the $2 million replacement of an I-95 ramp that connects the Connecticut Turnpike to Route 7 in Norwalk.

Even work on smaller bridges within towns in Fairfield County is often a major undertaking. Recently, workers were putting the final touches on a nearly 18-month project to replace two 1929 bridges with a modern structure that goes over the Mill River on Mill Plain Road in Fairfield. The new $2.4 million bridge was funded with federal and state grants.

"The original bridges were never meant to handle the tons of traffic that now go over the span," said one of the project supervisors, who declined to give his name. "The old bridges wouldn't have lasted much longer, that's for sure."

Also making the issue a hot topic in Connecticut, as well as across the country, was President Barack Obama's call last month on Congress to make replacing and upgrading bridges and infrastructure part of his $447 billion jobs plan.

"The president's proposals will be a direct benefit to Connecticut residents and businesses," said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy "For example, by investing in infrastructure his proposal would put people to work." Malloy said last June that investing in the state's roads and bridges was long overdue.

"For decades we have woefully neglected our transportation infrastructure and we are now forced to face the grim reality that our roads and bridges are badly in need of repair," said Malloy said. "Most importantly, these projects represent an investment in the state, in our workforce, and in the safety of all of Connecticut's travelers."

Safety of bridges has been a major concern in Connecticut ever since the infamous Mianus River Bridge collapse in Greenwich 29 years ago. When the northbound I-95 bridge span over the Mianus River collapsed in the early morning hours of June 28, 1983, plunging three people to their deaths and seriously injuring three others, Connecticut was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight.

While the number of casualties was kept low because the bridge collapsed at 1:30 a.m. – hours before the morning rush hour would have likely meant hundreds of deaths – the faulty design and lack of up-to-date inspections exposed many of the hidden dangers drivers faced while making routine trips over elevated infrastructure.

It wasn't the kind of center stage Connecticut was seeking.

As a result of the collapse - later determined to have been caused by a faulty hang pin-design that was supposed to hold the main bridge deck in place - Connecticut has remained one of the haunting symbols of the nation's crumbling infrastructure.
That the collapse occurred in one of the most affluent towns in the country helped even more to dramatize the urgent need to upgrade and replace many of the country's aging and failing bridges.

Millions of dollars were spent both here and across the nation to ensure improved technology and more frequent inspections.

"The Mianus River Bridge collapse was one of those cataclysmic events that forever changed the way we make bridges and the way we inspect them," said Nursick. "It's fair to say it impacted not only our state, but the entire country and (infrastructure) industry. It's something we believe couldn't happen today because of the improved technology and the greater frequency of inspections."

Nursick said after the bridge collapse, superior technology was developed, and back-up safety systems were put in place that prevent bridge spans from falling even if a key component fails.

But, he reiterated, "Bridges must be carefully and frequently monitored. That is one of the lessons we learned from the Mianus collapse."

To contact Richard Weizel, email rweizel@mainstreetconnect.us.

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i bolted the stupid state of n.y. in 1993 hallelujah!really it was defineately the time for the exodus i lived my last 7 yrs. in regressive rye , n.y. now the n.y. metro area is now he infrastructural toilet bowl in the country from a strict econ. angle futureless bronx to n.h. conn. on the aceldama i 95 this cursed place a semitic biblical word where judas iscariot hung himself and his entrails gushed out on the cursed groud conn. has an atrocious record avec infrastructure atrocious is the word for the nutmeg state so this infrastructural toilet bowl even as n.y. is nolonger the empire state empire?!! u have got to be kidding me how about the garbage barge state remember 1987 and that stink,in barge docked in gravesend bay brooklyn this should be the logo of the stupid state of n.y. superimposed on every lisence plate in the stupid state of n.y.!incidentally by bolting the garbage barge state and living on the west coast of fla. i have escaped the vulturine blasphemous taxes imposed by albany and wasted west. county here in the sunshine state i have not paid any taxes for 2 decades and being a vet i have a homestead exemption hallelujah!1971 the rye oyster bay bridge was killed and the pussillaminous pipsqueaks like the benighted nassau county planning commission rejects the brillant plan of robert moses a great monumental builder of the last 1000 yrs. the stooges in albany listened to the advice of the geriartic weasel robert caro these stupid experts such as the post menupasal slut jane jacobs and moses was disowned by the treacherous albany west. nassau ahh but wait your hypocritical state gov. the judas iscariot abe ribbicolf and a sodomite congressman from fairfield county stu mckinney also stopped the monumental construction project tens of thousands of highly skilled challenging strenous demanding yes even daring got it daring risking life and limb on the ultimate construction of the century but now go back to these swine obtain i fake fraudlent specious eco. wetlands bill ramroded thru congress and presto chango the bridge is outlaweed on ecological grounds yaa yaa here the waterfowl of the obscure bays have never had it so good while 10 million motorists go daily weekly to a living hell!living hell is where the motorists of this cursed corridor of the aceldama in your backyard had the rye oyster bay bridge been built over 40 yrs. ago the mianus rive r bridge might have lasted at least another decade but the criminal negligence of conn. and hartford will stink for 1000 yrs.this is the malfeaisance of the cent. and together with the dereliction of minneapolis and their blasphemous bridge collapse has finally awakened the benighted blasphemous bootless state capitols from the garbage barge state to the criminally negligent nutmeg state. !

This is very tragic. In the first place, they should have contracted a trusted bridge builder for them to have a safety bridges in all over the country.

The lies continue.
Is there not a single PE brain who will speak up ?
The bridge failure was not the design.
The pathetic DOT directed runoff to the joints by paving over the drain grates placed to protect them.
The result, the new bridge built with poor and expensive design that does not recognize the Mianus is a significant fault line. The previous bridge did. To continue the cover up is so Nutmeg like.
Read the Congressional testimony and you will see that the real engineers were right.
Why should we trust the engineering community in our State.
I know the Governor means well but is surrounded by dolts regarding this subject.