One bridge waits, another won’t

State delays construction of new Route 35 bridge while town moves ahead on sidewalk bridge.

A drawing of the footbridge planned for Danbury Road across from Fox Hill condominiums.

Reconstruction of the 85-year-old bridge that carries Route 35 traffic over Ridgefield Brook near the Fox Hill condominiums has been delayed again, and the state is now targeting 2014 or 2015 for the $3 million project.

But a footbridge paralleling the state highway for 100 feet is planned by the town this spring as it extends a sidewalk from the Recreation Center property, near the 9-11 memorial, south toward Copps Hill Plaza.

“We are grappling with the complexity,” state Department of Transportation engineer Mary Baker said of the Route 35 bridge. “How best to construct it, given the volume of traffic there.”

Danbury Road in the vicinity is traveled by an average of 18,700 cars a day, she said.

“It’s been five years we’ve been waiting for that bridge,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the Board of Selectmen Monday night.

Ms. Baker said the old bridge structure dates back to 1928 and the state has a general concern for its age.

“It’s the bridge condition, the concrete deck, the slab carrying the traffic,” she said. “We’re looking to replace it.”

According to Ms. Baker the project is now projected to go out to bid at the end of this year or early next year, with construction to begin several months later.

“We’re thinking fall in 2014 or spring of 2015 for a start,” she said of construction work.

The footbridge paralleling the highway is planned as part of a two-phase town project that would extend a sidewalk from the walking path on Recreation Center property south to the corner by Copps Hill Plaza.

“We’re opening bids Friday,” Town Engineer Charles Fisher told the selectmen Monday night. “That’s going to be a major improvement for the town.”

The first phase is a new sidewalk that would go from the walking path on Rec Center site to the edge of the Enchanted Garden property. That would be done this spring, Mr. Fisher said Tuesday, and includes the footbridge not far from the 9-11 memorial, parallel to the road bridge the state will eventually rebuild.

“It’s a totally separate bridge. It’s  away from the edge of the road. People won’t have to get near the actual path of the road,” Mr. Fisher said.

“It’s going to be a prefabricated bridge. It’s going to be rusted steel, so it blends in and it doesn’t overshadow the 9-11 memorial,” he said.

“It’s going to be eight feet in width so we can have bicycles go across it. Wood deck. It’s going to have a slight arch to it.”

Estimates for phase one of the project are about $190,000 to build the bridge and sidewalk, Mr. Fisher said.

The footbridge grew out of some unsuccessful negotiations between the state Department of Transportation and Mr. Marconi.

Five years ago when the bridge reconstruction plan was first announced by the state, Mr. Marconi asked if the project could include sidewalks. The state said it could. But it couldn’t accommodate Mr. Marconi’s request that the sidewalks be separated from the highway’s travel lanes by walls.

“What they would do is have the sidewalk be parallel to the travel lane without any kind of barrier between the sidewalk and the travel lane,” Mr. Marconi said. “On either side of the highway, the only barrier would be a six-to-eight-inch curb.

“I requested that in the design the sidewalks be put on the outside of the side walls of the bridge so that those concrete walls would act as a barrier between the sidewalk and the travel portion of the road,” Mr. Marconi said. “And that they said they could not do that.

“At that point we began looking at a pedestrian  bridge, totally separate from the Route 35 bridge, that would allow walkers to walk from the Rec Center over the bridge on their way south to Copps Hill,” he said.

“This would also accommodate pedestrian traffic that may want to utilize the empty land between the  Ridgefield Brook and the Enchanted Garden as a parking lot,” he said. “The carnival that was hosted this past fall by the Chamber of Commerce would like to be able to use that vacant lot for parking. Unfortunately, there was no sidewalk and people would have to actually walk in Route 35.”

A second phase of the project would take the sidewalk the rest of the way to the corner of Copps Hill Road. Part of this section of sidewalk would most likely be built by landowner Michael Eppoliti as part of his development project for 159 Danbury Road, between the Enchanted Garden and the Pamby’s facility on the corner.

The remainder of both phase one and phase two — would be done, as most town sidewalk projects are, done with money from the Local Capital Improvement Project  grants the town gets from the state each year. The grant authorizations run about $153,000 a year, but can be carried over from year to year. The town votes on the projects as part of its annual capital budget and then gets reimbursed by the state for the spending.

Mr. Fisher was optimistic the bridge could be built early this spring.

“Sometime in May, I’m guessing,” he said. “That’ll go fairly quickly, probably 30 days.”

Phase two would come later. Mr. Fisher is still designing it.

“I have the surveys done of the properties. I have to sit down and design it. The design on that would be in-house,” he said. “Ideally I’d like to get that to construction in the fall.”

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  • CMcQuilken

    The State is willing to build this pedestrian bridge at no cost to us, as a widening of the car bridge. Wonderful. I am certain we could have a metal highway barrier put up to separate the cars from the people. Think about it. Why would the State not allow a barrier? There is no valid reason. I’m sure reasonable minds could work it out.

    And in working it out, we’d save the town from spending $200,000 to create our own separate bridge. This should go back to the drawing board. Only this time, I’d say bring John Frey into the discussion. He’ll see the logic and work it out with the State.

    A few other thoughts:

    1) We are going to spend $200,000 for a pedestrian walk where no one goes. We are going to connect the Rec Center to what I think is the ugliest stretch of road in town. Who would want to take a pleasure stroll past all those unattractive stores? This seems like a bridge to nowhere. Could we focus instead on extending the town sidewalks on roads where people do want to walk? South Main Street or High Ridge for example. Both beautiful streets where people would enjoy taking a walk and looking at the scenery. But “Gasoline Alley” – that’s just not realistic.

    2) You can’t spend the LCIP grant ($150,000) twice. You can’t use that money to build this sidewalk because the schools are already planning on using that money to enhance security over the next few years. You need to sort this out now or both projects will go through with the expectation of using the same grant money – and the residents will be left with a big bill to pay. IMHO.

  • rdg-oldtimer

    +1 I am inclined to think that some parking spaces might be more fitting at the memorial location. A LOT cheaper too.

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